As your network starts to grow, it becomes more difficult (and finally close to impossible) to monitor and manage the systems. With a small network you can keep track of system and application errors and events by manually viewing the built-in event logs on your Windows servers. You can also keep abreast of performance issues by running the System Monitor and setting alerts to notify you of situations that need your attention.
This infrastructure strategy works when you have a couple of servers (and plenty of extra time); it doesn't work so well when you have 10 or 20 servers, and the plan breaks down completely when you have hundreds of servers. Somewhere along the way, you'll want to implement a monitoring and management solution. The good news is that there are plenty of them to choose from. The bad news is that there are plenty of them to choose from and knowing which is best for your organization (both now and in the future, as your network grows even more) isn't a "no brainer."
MOM is the choice for Microsoft shops
An obvious choice for Microsoft shops is the Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM). Besides the warm and fuzzy name, MOM provides the advantage of seamless integration with Windows server software. It uses agent software installed on your Windows 2000 and 2003 servers to track system-related events and performance metrics, and can also manage agentless systems using Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and Remote Procedure Call (RPC).
MOM can help you stay alert
Mom will let you know when your servers are suffering from low disk space, running out of memory, overloading the processors or having network connectivity problems. It also alerts you to problems with the Active Directory database, registry problems, and even keeps track of which systems have had which service packs and patches installed.
In addition to log entries, MOM can send alerts in several different ways: SNMP, pager and/or e-mail. And MOM doesn't just tell you about the problems; you can also specify scripts that it can run to automatically correct anticipated problems when they occur.
MOM 2005 scalability features
An important scalability feature is the ability to add management packs to track server-based applications. With the proper packs, you can monitor the status of Exchange, SQL and other server apps. Third party application vendors can use the API to build management packs for their software.
A problem with many of the popular monitoring and management packages is that they were designed for the enterprise environment and don't scale down well for smaller businesses. Another problem for small businesses is the complexity and cost of such packages. Microsoft addresses this by offering two different editions of its latest version of MOM, making the product much more scalable:
- MOM 2005 has all the features needed for monitoring the enterprise, but the solution requires an infrastructure that many small businesses don't have, including a SQL server
- MOM 2005 Workgroup Edition has most of the same monitoring and management features as "Big Mom,"; but can use the Microsoft Desktop Engine (MSDE) instead of a SQL server and leaves out features that apply primarily to enterprise users such as support for bi-directional multi-tiering and the MOM connector framework. It also costs much less.
The best part is that you can upgrade from Workgroup Edition to MOM 2005. When you do so, you don't have to upgrade MOM agents, and the MOM 2005 setup CD makes it easy by offering the choice to upgrade. Of course, you'll first have to migrate your database to a SQL server if it's currently running on MSDE, but Microsoft provides the Data Transformation Services SQL tool to help you do this. Another nice feature is the Prerequisite Checker, which is part of the MOM setup that determines whether your system meets all the prerequisites for installing or upgrading MOM. No more getting halfway through an installation before discovering that your infrastructure isn't sufficient.
Just how far up will MOM 2005 scale? You can have up to 4,000 agent-managed computers per management group, 2,000 per management server. A multi-tiered MOM configuration can have three levels, and you can run 15 MOM consoles per management server.
Scaling to different platforms
What if, as your organization grows, you add Linux/UNIX or other non-Windows servers to the mix? Unfortunately, MOM is a Windows-centric sort of gal. However, she does play well with others. You can integrate MOM 2005 with network management systems such as OpenView (Hewlett-Packard) or Tivoli (IBM). MOM 2005's Connector Framework includes connectors for both products, as well as Unicenter (Computer Associates). With the connectors installed, MOM can forward alerts to the other management products and keep data synchronized between MOM and the other products.
Under the System Center umbrella
Microsoft previously planned to release a product called System Center that would bundle MOM with Systems Management Server (SMS) and link the two with a common interface and reporting system. In April 2005, it was announced that MOM and SMS will remain independent server products, but the System Center name lives on as an umbrella group of server products to include not only MOM and SMS but also a reporting tool called System Center Reporting Manager and such products as Data Protection Manager (the server formerly known as Data Protection Server).
This decision to keep MOM as a standalone product makes it more scalable to small businesses, while the ability to use the reporting tool to integrate MOM with other Microsoft Management products enhances its upward scalability.
MOM lets you grow
MOM isn't the only comprehensive monitoring and maintenance solution on the market, and MOM only does Windows, but it's a very scalable solution for small businesses that can't currently afford the cost and learning curve of the "big guys" but want a solution that will be upgradable and extensible as their networks grow up.
Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.