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Secret Sauce for Selling SA in SMB

Secret Sauce for Selling SA in SMB

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By Ron Grattopp ronaldg-001_thumb2_thumb_thumb1…..

I LOVE alliteration and catchy titles, and I hope this title caught your attention because I have some info to share about a new cloud service that I think you’ll want to know about (but probably don’t yet).  A while back I did a post where I mentioned my favorite movie line (from the original Pirates of the Caribbean) where the Commodore says to Jack: “You’re the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of”, to which Jack replies, “but at least you’ve heard of me”.  So here’s another post where I thought about using the title, The Best Server Management Technology You Probably Never Heard Of but as I thought about it, it occurred to me this is really as much about a new Software Assurance (SA) benefit as it is about server management and the alliterative aspect  broke the tie Smile.  So what am I really talking about here?  The answer is now called System Center Advisor (formerly codenamed Atlanta).  So have you heard of it?  I’m betting not.  The good news is that you can sign up for a 60-day trial, even if you don’t have SA.  So what is it?

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System Center Advisor is a new proactive diagnostics health service for Windows Servers – and it is available as an SA benefit to anyone who has active SA on one of our servers and/or workloads.   It provides online (cloud-based) monitoring (but not real-time) of Windows Servers and server workloads.  Systems Center Advisor enables the IT admin to assess their server configurations using information and best practices collected from the years of knowledge and experience gained by the Microsoft Consulting and Support teams.  Sound familiar?  Yes, my friend, this is kind of a System Center Operations Manager in the cloud, in fact, the agent that you’ll install on the managed nodes is basically a SCOM agent (and if you already have SCOM, then I understand that this will dual-home to accommodate both the on-prem SCOM as well as the cloud-based Advisor).  While this tool won’t provide real-time monitoring and alerts like SCOM, it will allow you to proactively assess server configurations and brings the following system management benefits to your IT staff... 

  • Proactively avoid problems
    • Increase awareness around the state of server deployment through assessment of configuration, and alerts for configuration-related issues.
    • Resolve issues before they become critical through ongoing assessments of the server environment for undetected configuration issues.
    • Assess and understand server configurations from anywhere with a secure cloud service.
  • Resolve issues faster
    • Decrease time to resolve issues by easily viewing configuration changes over time with historical data.
    • Decrease time to resolve issues with the ability to share server configuration data with internal support staff or Microsoft Customer Support Services.
    • Accelerate problem solving with instant access to step by step guidance, self-help information and community forums related to identified issues.
  • Reduce downtime and improve performance
    • Increase performance and availability of servers by understanding configuration state and receiving suggestions for improvement to help ensure availability.
    • Reduce server downtime by getting notifications for key updates specific to the configuration of the server environment.
    • Increase collaboration between IT professionals through centralized data of an organization’s deployment configurations.

And btw, did I mention that there’s no licensing cost for this other than having SA activated for the systems and workloads that you want Advisor to monitor. What a great complimentary technology to have along with Intune which will monitor and manage your client machines.

System Center Advisor is currently in Release Candidate status but should be launching soon. Here��s a screenshot of the home page at: https://www.systemcenteradvisor.com.  Notice Advisor provides the following insight into your server infrastructure: ongoing assessment of configurations, historical data and changes over time (finally, you can easily find who made that server config change and when), faster issue resolution (because it provides troubleshooting and remediation info links like SCOM), and, of course, all this will help ensure you achieve reduced downtime.

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Here’s a couple screenshots of the Overview (dashboard) showing your overall system status and the other of a sample Alerts page showing specific issues which can be drilled down on to facilitate remediation:

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As alluded to above, having Advisor analyze your server environment can help increase uptime by identifying potential issues and data corruption, as well as providing more information about these systems/workloads to make problem resolution faster and more efficient.   With that in mind, you may have thought that this sounds like an online Best Practice Analyzer, but, unlike the BPA which you have to periodically update and then run on an ad-hoc basis, Advisor is installed once and then it runs continuously and you just go to the portal to get results -- rules are automatically downloaded and executed.  Advisor currently includes support for AD, Hyper-V, Server, and SQL; but support for Exchange and SharePoint are in the works and should be coming soon (projected for end of this CY).  [There is a bit of confusion here as the TechNet link below states that the RC analyzes Exchange 2010 even though its logo is not shown in the supported products in the homepage screenshot above.]

SO here’s some links to get you more info on this, enjoy…

System Center Advisor Home: https://www.systemcenteradvisor.com/ 
System Center Advisor on microsoft.com: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/system-center/advisor.aspx 
System Center Advisor on TechNet: What is System Center Advisor article on TechNet 
TechNet Edge video: System Center Advisor video on Technet Edge

You can refer to the TechNet link above for info (and a diagram) on the Advisor environment, but it’s pretty simple, you just need to install a “gateway” (agent) on a computer that has internet access and then install the data collector agents on the servers you want to manage.  It’s a 30mb package and the install takes a few minutes at most and is wizard driven. 

When you find out all that Advisor has to offer I hope you’ll agree with me that it could be the “secret sauce” (or silver bullet) to helping you get your customers on Software Assurance.   With all the new technology coming out in the next couple of years (Windows 8 chief among them), along with this great new server management benefit, as well as all the standard SA benefits, there won’t be a better time to have that SA discussion with your customer.

Cheers,
Ron

Comments
  • Hey Ron, thanks for the writeup on System Center Advisor.  A couple points of clarification:

    1) You mentioned "you can easily find who made that server config change".  Advisor doesn't capture who made a configuration change.  It collects snapshots of ~1000 configuration settings periodically and then uploads them to the cloud to find interesting changes over time.

    2) We just introduced our support Exchange.  There are about ~25 rules available.  You can see a list of them in the "Available Alerts" dialog.  To get there:

    A) Log into your account

    B) Navigate to the Alerts page

    C) Click on the "Manage alerts..." button

    D) Click on the "Available alerts" tab

    Hope this helps,

    Paul Mestemaker (@PaulMest)

    Sr. Program Manager

    Microsoft System Center Advisor

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