Wednesday, December 7, 2016

SCOM - The Topology Widget, Visio and a suped-up HD display!

Recently, I ran into an issue while creating some dashboards in the SCOM console for a customer and I thought it might be worth sharing.

Normally I use the Topology Widget to light up an image file that I initially put together using Visio and the end-result typically turns out something like this…

The difference this time though was that I’ve been using a new Windows 10 laptop that has some pretty awesome specs and a kick-ass HD display. The downside of having a laptop with Windows 10 and these specs is that application scaling becomes a nightmare and there’s a whole merry-go-round of custom tweaks that I needed to make when I started using it so as to deliver an experience where I don’t need a giant magnifying glass to work!

Here's how I have my Windows 10 laptop scaling settings configured (notice the 250% size setting)..

With these scaling settings in place on the new laptop, I went about my business by first creating a new dashboard image in Visio and then saving it as a PNG file before finally importing the file into SCOM.

When I worked my way through configuring the Topology Widget wizard to map my custom IT services (Distributed Applications) onto the image, the dashboard disappointingly turned out like this...

The problem with this dashboard view is that its grainy quality and tiny health state icons make it hard to read and understand. I've created hundreds of these dashboard views in the past and this was the first time that I've encountered a problem like this so it was time to dig a little deeper to find the solution.

The first thing I tried was to copy the problematic PNG file to another SCOM environment and create a new Topology Widget dashboard there. In this separate environment, the grainy image and tiny health state icons were still there so the problem pointed to an issue with the PNG file.

Another test I tried was to import a completely different dashboard PNG file that I knew worked fine in another customers environment and thankfully this displayed as expected. With this validation, I was confident that I was dealing with an issue either with the original problematic PNG or the Visio image that I created the PNG from.

As I traced back through my steps, I opened the Visio file again that I created this dashboard in and clicked the the Save As option from the File menu to save it as a new PNG. When I did this, I was presented with the following PNG Output Options window:

Notice the default Resolution and Size settings Visio 2016 selects for me when I go to save a new PNG file. I figured that due to the 250% display scaling option that my laptop was configured with, these settings were creating the PNG file at too high a resolution for SCOM to work with.

I went back to the original problematic PNG file and checked the Image Properties and I could see that it was configured to use 2044 x 1548 pixels as shown here....

When I checked the other dashboard PNG file that I knew worked (and which I created on my old laptop), I could see that it was configured to use a much lower pixel size.

So, back to the Visio diagram of my new dashboard and this time, when I clicked the Save As option from the File menu, I manually configured the PNG Output settings to use a resolution of Source and a pixel size of 1123 x 794 as shown in this image...

When I imported this new leaner version of the PNG file back into the same Topology Widget, I finally got the results I was looking for where the health state and image quality were far easier on the eye.

Hopefully this easy fix helps someone else out with their future SCOM dashboard creations!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Most Useful SCOM Article on the Web Just Got an Update!

As anyone who's ever worked with SCOM will know, it's a fairly heavy and complex product to get your head around at first and the larger the environment to be monitored, the more administration and troubleshooting tasks you'll need to teach yourself.

Way back when I started working with SCOM, I quickly found myself lost in a myriad of blog posts and TechNet articles searching for help on how to extract information from the SQL databases to help me better understand the problems I was experiencing.

The one thing that kept coming up trumps for me in my searches time and time again was Kevin Holman's 'Useful Operations Manager 2007 SQL Queries' post. This post brought together a virtual treasure chest of SQL queries that the 'non-SQL admin' like me could easily copy and paste into my SQL Management Studio window for instant information or configuration changes in my customers SCOM environments.

It was probably the first SCOM reference on the web that I saved as a favourite into my web browser and was always a location that I'd tell new SCOM admins to go check out and bookmark.

As the title of Kevin's post suggests, it was originally put together nine years ago as a central repository of SQL queries for SCOM 2007. When System Center 2012 and ultimately 2016 came around, these queries still worked with the newer releases of SCOM but there was often some confusion from people trying to understand if they only worked with SCOM 2007.

So to address this, just recently Kevin took the time to archive his original 2007-named post and create a new one titled simply 'SCOM SQL Queries'.

Not only has he renamed the post but he has also formatted it in a way that all queries are now much easier to read from and copy/paste as required.

Check out the new location for what is most likely, the most useful SCOM article on the web here:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Experts Live NL 2016

Today I've just finished up presenting my last public conference session of 2016 at the awesome Experts Live conference in the Netherlands.

This is my second year to attend Experts Live NL and it already seems like the conference attendee and speaker count has grown significantly in that short space of time.

My presentation this year was titled 'Hacking OMS with your OpsMgr Skills' and is an extension of the session that I co-presented with my good friend Cameron Fuller at System Center Universe 2016 in August.

The original idea and title for this session was all Cameron's and with his blessing, I put my own spin on the content to ensure that Experts Live attendees were treated to a significantly different version of the one we delivered previously at SCU. Also, with the vast number of changes and feature additions that we've now become accustomed to with OMS, there was much to show on the day.

My session was the first to open after the keynote and it was refreshing to see the room filled with a large number of current OpsMgr users waiting to hear how to advance their skillsets with OMS.

(Photo credit Pedro van Vliet)

When my presentation was done, I took some time to hang out with old friends and to network with the attendees and various booth vendors around the event.

All in all, Experts Live NL was a good closure for me to a hectic few months of traveling and presenting. I'm looking forward to now refocusing my attention back onto my poor neglected blog and bringing some useful posts into the community over the coming months!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Important SCOM 2016 and 2012 R2 Updates!

If like me, you've jumped aboard the SCOM 2016 bandwagon and started deploying the recently released GA version to your production environments, then you'll need to be aware of two very important updates that need to be added ASAP.

The first one is Update Rollup 1 for SCOM 2016:

Microsoft have recommended that people deploy this update rollup immediately after deploying the intial SCOM 2016 GA build as it contains fixes for a number of issues that were recently highlighted by users of the Technical Preview 5 release.

The next update is better identified as a patch (KB3200006) that Microsoft needed to quickly release in response to a widespread spate of console crashes on both SCOM 2016 and 2012 R2.

People are understandably frustrated at these crashes as you can read from here and here.

You can get access to the new patch that (hopefully) fixes this problem from the following link:

Hopefully this helps people out and feel free to use the comments section below (or add your thoughts to the TechNet forums mentioned above) if this patch doesn't solve the console crash issue for you.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Updated: SCOM 2016 & 2012 R2 Prerequisites Script

Last year when I was starting work on my new Getting Started with Operations Manager book, I needed a PowerShell script that would help me deploy the SCOM 2016 and 2012 R2 prerequisites without fail every time.

The script was a derivative of an earlier SCOM 2012 SP1 script that I published a few years back and it worked fine up until the download link for the ReportViewer prerequisite changed to support Windows Server 2016. I had it on my to-do list to update this script to reflect the new download link but before I got around to it, I noticed that my good friend (and the tallest Dutch guy I know) Oskar Landman had taken my original script and added his scripting magic to it!

Oskar's updated script now has interactive prompts to check which version of SCOM you're installing and whether or not you are deploying the Web Console role (which requires the most prerequisites) - awesome!

Taking your inputs from those prompts, it will then go and download the SQLSysClrTypes and ReportViewer prerequisites to a folder of your choice, install them and then deploy all required roles and features based on your input - nice!

You can review Oskar's original blog post about his work on this script here.

The updated script can be downloaded from its original TechNet Gallery location here:

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Looking back on System Center Universe Europe 2016

A few weeks back I had the honour of presenting again at the annual System Center Universe Europe conference - which was held this year in Berlin, Germany.

This was my fourth year presenting at System Center Universe Europe and I can honestly say that the conference just keeps getting better and better each time. This is mainly due to the epic amount of time and effort the team over at itnetX dedicate to organising it.

I went into this conference initially with two sessions to present. One was a solo effort titled 'What's New with OpsMgr 2016' and the other was a joint presentation with the one and only Cameron Fuller titled 'Using your OpsMgr skills to hack OMS'.

A few short hours after landing in Germany, I ended up adding another presentation to my list. This third one was another joint presentation with Cameron Fuller and it came with the awesome title of 'OMS & OpsMgr: Mortal Enemies, Casual Acquaintances, Best Friends, or Inbred Cousins?' - only Cameron could think up a fun and quirky title like this!

Here's the low-down on how each day over there went for me:

The day before the conference began, a few of us (myself, Cameron, Robert Hedblom and Janaka Rangama) decided to do some sightseeing and took a cab over to the Berlin Wall Memorial. Although this is one of the top sights to see when you visit Berlin and definitely something on my bucket list to check out, the sombre historical significance of the wall was never far from our minds.

After a few hours soaking up some culture, we walked through the various meandering side-streets of Berlin until we came across the conference centre that would host this years System Center Universe event. Located right in the middle of Berlin's Alexanderplatz, it wasn't hard to miss due to the large SCU flags that greeted us on arrival at the front of the building.

After a quick recon mission of the rooms we would be presenting in and the overall venue, we all agreed that this was going to be a good week ahead.

When we left the conference centre, we decided (actually Robert decided) to get some food accompanied with some local beverages. Being in Germany, it would've been rude to order anything smaller than this as a beer to wash down the local staple dish of Currywurst...

Another great thing about this years host city is the fact that everything is so central and after catching up with my geek friends, it was only a short night-time walk back to the hotel - which was always easy to navigate back to due to the prominence of the building on the Berlin skyline!

Day 1
We had a bright and early start on the Wednesday morning as Marcel Zehner kicked off the opening keynote with a run-down of the few days ahead (including the all-important party list!)

When Marcel got the formalities out of the way, it was straight into tech with special guest Ed Wilson (aka The Scripting Guy). Ed delivered an awesome presentation on how to approach traditional IT challenges in a hybrid IT world.

Straight after the keynote, myself and Cameron headed over to our room to get ready for our first co-presented session titled 'OMS & OpsMgr: Mortal Enemies, Casual Acquaintances, Best Friends, or Inbred Cousins?'...

It wasn't long before the room filled up and in true Cameron style, he kicked off the presentation with a pre-recorded video of songs and images that represented mortal enemies, casual acquaintances, best friends and inbred cousins!

The interaction from the audience during our session was awesome and we had so many questions in the Q & A section that we ran out of time!

The rest of the day was spent watching and learning from some of the other presentations and later that night, it was time to chill at the speakers and sponsors party - which was hosted at Club Mio and included a top quality open-air barbecue dinner.

Due to some very suspect MVP dance moves, I'll keep the after-hours nightclub photo's away from the internet!

Day 2
On the second day, I took in a cool session from the dynamic Stefan duo (Stefan Roth & Stefan Koell) before heading over to Bob Cornelissen and Savision's session titled 'Prepare for Hybrid Monitoring - SCOM 2012, SCOM 2016 and OMS'.  Due to an unexpected hospital visit, Bob had initially asked me to be on standby to take over and deliver this presentation as he wasn't sure he'd even make it over to Berlin but, like a true professional, he stood up on stage and rocked it!

Following this, myself Cameron and Jan Vidar Elven headed over to the 'Ask the Experts' booth to host questions from attendees related to System Center 2016.

Later that afternoon me and Cameron were back on stage again for our  'Using your OpsMgr skills to hack OMS' session. This was another well attended presentation (especially considering the SquaredUp guys were doing an impromptu Whiskey Tasting in the room next door)!

When the final sessions of the day finished up, the conference venue played host to the SCU Networking Party where the mix of geek-talk, cocktails and music was rampant.

Day 3
With more than a few sore heads on the last day from the parties the previous night, I had my final presentation to deliver at the opening 09:15 time-slot. This session was titled 'What's New with OpsMgr 2016' and in it I covered all of the new features and enhancements that we can look forward to with the latest release of our favourite monitoring platform. Again, this was another session that had great interaction from the attendees.

An interesting method of gauging attendee feedback for each session was the 'Happy or Not' button stand that was positioned outside the door of each breakout session.

The results from this new rating system were uploaded and sent to speakers within a few days of the conference and thankfully the sessions I participated in where well received.

When I finished my last presentation, it was time to finally chill out a bit after prepping and rehearsing for most of the week and just after lunch a few of us decided to do some final sight-seeing before heading home the following day.

Here's me with my Ergo buddy Gareth checking out some of the amazing architecture around Berlin..

We also stumbled across what we initially thought was a normal Microsoft Store (similar to the ones in the US) however, when we went inside it was a strange bar/café combination so of course, we stopped here for some light refreshments!

When we were finished in the Microsoft bar, we headed on to the famous Brandeburg Gate (one of the top historical tourist attractions in Germany).

Closing Announcements
After the sight-seeing, we headed back to the conference for the closing keynote where some significant announcements were made relating to the future of SCU Europe.

The first announcement was that the conference would be back again in Berlin next year - which is a decision that has gone down very well with speakers and attendees.

The second announcement was that SCU Europe would be re-branded to Experts Live Europe...

I think this is a sensible decision as the conference has morphed into so much more than just System Center. Yes we will have a new release of System Center 2016 coming shortly but when you consider the amount of content discussed at this years conference on Azure and OMS technologies, it just makes perfect sense.

All-in-all, it was a great week and I'm really looking forward to heading back to Berlin next year to what has now turned into Europe's premier community conference for Microsoft IT pro's and geeks.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Available Now: Getting Started with Microsoft System Center Operations Manager

Finally after many months of writing (and the primary reason this blog has been so quiet), my third book has been published and is ready to go.

The idea for this book came about after many requests from my customers and people I meet through the System Center community asking how to get started on the basics with their OpsMgr/SCOM deployments once they have it deployed.

SCOM is a complex beast of a product and a lot of deployments I've seen out there aren't using even half of the capabilities it has to offer (distributed applications and dashboards in particular). You'd be surprised how many people simply install it, deploy agents to everything in their environment, import as many management packs as they can find and then configure a single SMTP notification subscription that forwards all alerts to their inbox.

This only leads to alert noise, frustration, the inevitable cursing of the product by users and eventually, it'll be replaced with a different monitoring tool. Thankfully, with the correct guidance, these deployments don't have to be assigned to the monitoring tool graveyard. With a little know-how and help in the right direction, SCOM can be transformed into an IT enablement tool that can deliver full monitoring visibility and streamlined management into your environments.

Hopefully, this book can equip readers with the know-how they need to make the most of their new SCOM environments!

What's Inside?
This book contains detailed content to help you get up and running with new deployments of both SCOM 2016 and SCOM 2012 R2. I've tried to keep things as simple as possible with each chapter building on the previous one while delivering tips, tricks and best practice recommendations along the way.

Here's the chapter list:

Chapter 1 - Introduction to System Center Operations Manager

Chapter 2 - Installing System Center Operations Manager

Chapter 3 - Exploring the Consoles

Chapter 4 - Deploying Agents

Chapter 5 - Working with Management Packs

Chapter 6 - Managing Network Devices

Chapter 7 - Configuring Service Models with Distributed Applications

Chapter 8 - Alert Tuning the Easy Way

Chapter 9 - Visualizing Your IT with Dashboards

Chapter 10 - Creating Alert Subscriptions and Reports

Chapter 11 - Backing Up, Performing Maintenance and Troubleshooting

Target Audience
The target audience for this book is the IT Pro or System Administrator who wants to deploy and use SCOM but has no previous knowledge of the product.

As a ‘Getting Started' book, the primary objective is to equip you with the knowledge you need to feel comfortable when working with common monitoring scenarios in SCOM. With this in mind, deep-diving into less-common features such as Audit Collection Services (ACS), Agentless Exception Monitoring (AEM) and Application Performance Monitoring (APM) has been intentionally omitted.

If you're already familiar with SCOM and have a good grasp of the basic concepts, you should still find the content useful - particularly the chapters that discuss configuring your distributed application models, tuning alerts and creating dashboards from the ground up.

Where Can You Get It?
The book is available in both paperback and e-book format and can be downloaded from all of the usual suppliers. If you have an Amazon account, then you can order it directly from the following links:

Hope you enjoy the content and thanks for your support!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

SCOM - How to Check When the Update Rollup SQL Scripts Were Last Run

If you've deployed SCOM into your environment, then you should be familiar with the quarterly process of deploying the latest Update Rollup's (UR's) from Microsoft - which generally contain a collection of bug fixes and new enhancements.

The Problem
The process of deploying these UR's can be a fraught journey to navigate - particularly when this process demands you manually run two SQL scripts against the SCOM databases and then import a number of new management packs.

You can deploy the UR payloads either manually or with your usual patch management tools such as Windows Update or ConfigMgr. The problem with using either option though, is that quite often, people forget to run the SQL scripts (which must be run manually regardless of the deployment method) and forget to import the new management packs. Omitting either of these steps mean that slowly but surely, bad things start to happen within the management group.

The Process
Now, I'm a big fan of R.T.F.M. and will always read through any associated guides or technical notes before deploying something new into my environment and to be fair to Microsoft, they do mention in the UR documentation that these SQL scripts need to be manually executed against each database and new management packs have to be imported as part of the UR deployment process.

Along with the official KB article, there's some excellent advice available on the web to ensure everything goes smoothly and the following high-level steps are how I typically deploy new UR's into my customer's SCOM environments:

  1. Read through the full KB article associated with the new UR (the latest UR9 article can be found here).
  2. Manually download the UR packages from the Microsoft download catalog.
  3. Head straight over to Kevin Holman's blog (he's like the Grand Master of the SCOM community) and read through his step-by-step guide for the latest UR (the link to his UR9 one is here).
  4. Follow the instructions exactly as laid out in Kevin's step-by-step guide to manually deploy the update.
  5. Sit back with my coffee and rejoice at a happy upgrade deployment.

Tip: I prefer using the manual download and deployment method for these UR's as all your agents will then be placed into the 'Pending Management' view in the Administration workspace with a note informing you they are ready for upgrade. This doesn't happen when you use the Windows Update/ConfigMgr method and instead, you need to either carry out a repair of the agent from the console or use your patch management tools to directly upgrade the agent.

If you follow these high-level steps, then you shouldn't have any problems with your UR deployments but from time to time, you will no doubt come across environments where you need to validate if a full and proper UR deployment has been carried out.

It's this requirement that has led me to writing up this blog post.

The Solution
During a discussion with some of the monitoring ninja's in my MVP group, the question came up about how it would be possible to validate if the SQL scripts have been executed as part of the UR upgrade process. After some initial unsuccessful tests and more than a few emails firing around our inboxes, Kevin Holman threw his two cents into the mix and as a result, he's come up with a quite simple but very effective method of determining the last time a UR SQL script was run against the Operational database.

Here's what you need to do:

Launch SQL Management Studio, connect to the instance that hosts your SCOM databases and expand down to the Table-valued Functions folder under the OperationsManager database as shown in the screenshot below.

From here, right-click the dbo.fn_AlertView function and select Properties from the resultant menu. When this opens, as shown in the screenshot below, the Created Date should indicate when SCOM was first installed.

Now close this window, right-click the dbo.fn_AlertViewChanges function and select Properties from the menu. This time, when you check the Created Date value, you will see the last date that a UR script was run against that database (shown in the following screenshot).

If this date is OLDER than the release date for the UR that you think the environment should be running, then clearly, the script hasn't been run and will need to be run again.

As I mentioned earlier, if you follow all of the steps outlined in Kevin Holman's UR blog posts, then you won't go wrong but if by chance you come across an environment that you or your customers are not sure if the full UR process has been completed, then this little trick from should help you determine your next steps.

All credit and thanks to Kevin Holman for pointing this out to us :)

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Monitoring Nutanix with SCOM

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to test drive the beta version of a new management pack about to hit the market from well known solution provider - Comtrade. This new management pack brings deep monitoring of Nutanix converged infrastructure environments into SCOM.

My initial thoughts when asked to take a look at this management pack were mainly based around the fact that I've not had any exposure to Nutanix over here in Ireland - nor have I met any customers or consultants here who have deployed their products and who ultimately, could give me some feedback on them. Sure, I've seen their booths at the various conferences I've attended over the years but I still didn't really have the full picture on what they offer.

I have however, worked with Comtrade on many SCOM engagements over the years and have demo'd and sold their solutions into a lot of happy customers here and across Europe. One such solution (and arguably, the one Comtrade is best known for) is the Citrix Management Pack suite that was recently acquired by Citrix themselves.

With this proven ability to author top quality management packs in the past, I was intrigued to see what they could do with this latest one.

So before I got hands-on with the management pack, I took some time to do a bit of research on Nutanix and get a better understanding of what they offer and who they're competing against.

Who are Nutanix and what do they do?
Listed as a leader alongside vendors like Cisco, EMC, NetApp and HP in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Hyper-Converged Integrated Systems,  Nutanix have a base of approximately 1400 customers spread across most of the major enterprise industry verticals.

Their specialty is integrating server and storage resources into smaller appliances that can then be deployed into your datacenter in a relatively short space of time. Each Nutanix enclosure is referred to as a 'block' and each block can contain between 1 and 4 nodes. As I work a lot with HP kit, I relate this to a similar concept to the HP Blade Systems - where you have a main chassis that can contain different combinations of self-contained blade servers and storage appliances.

Unlike the HP Blade Systems however, Nutanix claim they have a much easier and faster method for scaling up your infrastructure when adding more blocks - along with their own hypervisor (called Acropolis) and management software that adds tiered software defined storage logic to your resource-hungry applications.

Here's an image taken from their website that shows an example of how their software defined storage architecture is put together..

Targeted Workloads
With the tiered software defined storage architecture and application logic that Nutanix have in their appliances, customers running Citrix, SharePoint, Exchange and Skype for Business workloads seem to be ideal target markets for them.

Comtrade MP for Nutanix
Now that we have an overview of who Nutanix are and what they do, it's time to take a look at the management pack that Comtrade have put together to monitor those systems.

The Comtrade Nutanix MP focuses on the following key monitoring areas for Nutanix systems...

When we view the MP in the SCOM console, we can see Comtrade have stayed consistent with their authoring by giving us the massive number of monitoring views that we've come to expect with their management packs...

The alerts generated by the management pack return easy-to-understand information about the health of the Nutanix environment and the workloads that run on it...

There's also plenty of diagram views to choose from...

With some new dashboard widgets thrown in for good measure...

If the more traditional multi-widget dashboard view is what you're after, then the MP has these in abundance too...

Application Awareness Feature
The MP comes with an awesome new feature called Application Awareness. This feature automatically discovers any Citrix or Microsoft workloads inside the virtual machines running on the Nutanix environment, identifies the various roles those workloads use, then lights up performance and availability data within a dashboard similar to the one below.

This feature will work in conjunction with the rich information you already get from the Citrix and Microsoft management packs that were designed specifically to monitor those workloads. It's also handy to have those workloads automatically discovered and grouped into the same management pack that's monitoring the hardware they're deployed to.

MP Architecture
The management pack uses a data collector (which is deployed as a Windows service) to communicate with one or more Nutanix clusters using the Nutanix REST API. This communication takes place over TCP port 9440 by default.

Here's a high-level overview of the MP architecture:

Accounts and Permissions
The Nutanix devices are discovered in SCOM using SNMP v3 and as such, an SNMP v3 access account needs to be configured on the Nutanix devices to allow communication with your SCOM management servers.

A Run As account needs to be configured with an existing Nutanix Prism user account that has read-only permissions on the Nutanix environment and if you plan on using the Application Awareness feature, then you'll need an additional account with Local Administrator permissions on the virtual machines that host the applications.

One more account is required to use the Application Awareness feature with Citrix, and this account will need XenApp/XenDesktop administrator permissions.

The Comtrade Nutanix MP runs on SCOM 2012, 2012 SP1 and 2012 R2 (no SCOM 2007 R2 support) and the following table shows which Nutanix NOS versions are supported:

This table shows the supported Nutanix Software Editions:

Wish List
After good alert information and detailed dashboard views, I normally place reporting and custom tasks next on my wish list for a new management pack. At this time, the beta version of the Comtrade Nutanix MP that I've tested doesn't have any out-of-box reports or custom tasks available. I've given this feedback to Comtrade and they've confirmed that custom out-of-box reports are in their short-term roadmap and they are also exploring ideas on which tasks can add value in a later release.

Overall, I think this is a really solid management pack (particularly when they add out-of-box reports) and if you or your customers have deployed both Nutanix and SCOM into your environment, then I'd definitely recommend you try this out and see what it can do for you.
The beta program for this MP is now closed and Comtrade have confirmed that it will be Generally Available (GA) on May 10th. Pricing will be based on a per-core model and you can contact Comtrade directly to get a quote once it's available.

A free trial of the MP will be available from here when it GA's next week and it costs nothing to try it out and decide if it adds value to your organization.