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Analyze server performance with Microsoft Advisor: How to get started

John Joyner shares the benefits of using Microsoft Advisor (part of the Software Assurance program) to analyze how well your servers are tuned to get the best performance out of them.

System Center Advisor (or just "Advisor") is a benefit of the Software Assurance (SA) license program for organizations running Microsoft SQL Server 2008 (and later versions), and Windows Server 2008 (and later versions). Advisor collects on-premise configuration data from supported Microsoft server installations, analyzes it in the Microsoft Azure cloud, and provides feedback in emailed reports and through an online portal. Potential issues (such as missing security patches) or deviations from identified best practices with regard to configuration and usage are identified.

Advisor is an effort to share the expertise of Microsoft support teams, in the form of proactive recommendations, delivered to server and application administrators, before availability or performance issues occur. Advisor is not a monitoring service -- it does not offer real-time alerting and does not measure application delivery. It's been described as an automated Best Practice Analyzer and configuration history database for supported server technologies. Microsoft is expected to add other server technologies to Advisor soon and on a continuing basis in the future.

Figure A

The benefits to the Software Assurance customer for using the System Center Advisor benefit.
Figure A (from the Microsoft System Center Advisor web portal entry page) illustrates the ultimate goal for the customer: Reduced downtime. There is also the opportunity for improved server performance by informing administrators when servers are unpatched or misconfigured. Should things go wrong and you have to open a Microsoft support case, you can resolve issues faster by providing Microsoft with access to current and historical configuration data, which is stored by Advisor in the cloud.

There are two on-premise software components to the Advisor architecture: the gateway and the agent. A prerequisite to run the Advisor installer is the .NET Framework 3.5.1, which is enabled via the Features page of Windows Server Manager.

  • Gateway: An Internet-connected server on your network that can upload data collected from agents to System Center Advisor. The gateway uses TCP port 443 for encrypted transmission of the configuration of servers with Advisor agents to the Advisor web service at Microsoft.
  • Agent: Collects information from a server on your network and sends that information to a gateway. The agent uses TCP port 80 for communication on your network between Advisor agents and gateways.

System Center Advisor is hosted in the Microsoft Azure public cloud at datacenters in the United States. Gateways upload data daily in a batch process, and a weekly email summary of issues detected by Advisor is delivered. The language of Advisor today is English, but the service is available in a number of additional countries.

Getting started with System Center Advisor

Anyone can request activation of a free 60-day trial of System Center Advisor (trial link here). Existing volume license users with Software Assurance can start using a licensed instance of Advisor (SA link here). When you visit the System Center Advisor web portal and log in with the Live ID associated with your Advisor account, Advisor knows who you are and stages the right downloads for you in an Azure storage blob.

There are two files to download. An executable setup file (AdvisorSetup.exe), and a registration certificate file that digitally authenticates this Advisor gateway computer as part of your Advisor subscription. Figure B demonstrates downloading the two files with your web browser and kicking off an Advisor gateway installation.

Figure B

Download two files and run a setup wizard to install a System Center Advisor gateway. You can repeat the download process with the web browser at each computer that needs an agent or gateway. Alternatively, you can copy the setup file to a network share or removable media and repeat the install with the shared media. When installing a gateway server, you need to point the Advisor setup to the registration certificate file downloaded along with the executable setup file, but the certificate is only needed for gateway install and should not be widely distributed.

Steps to configure Advisor on servers

  1. After installing Advisor on a server, the Advisor Configuration Wizard program item appears on the server's Start menu. The configuration wizard also runs automatically after first installing the software.
  2. There is an option to restrict connections to an Advisor gateway to a specific set of agents in your domain. This option provides an Advisor customer with an additional layer of filtering to confirm an exact list of agents allowed to send configuration data to Advisor.
  3. After completing the Advisor configuration wizard, within 24 hours you will see data in your account at the Advisor online portal.
  4. No configuration or application data is collected from a gateway server just by installing the Advisor gateway server component.
    • You need to expressly enable the Advisor agent component on the gateway server at the time you install the gateway, if you want the gateway server configuration analyzed by Advisor.
    • If you install a gateway without an agent, you can later re-run the setup executable (AdvisorSetup.exe) and select the Change option. Then select to activate the Advisor agent component as well as the gateway component.
  5. Finally, after installing a gateway server, you need to install agents on the servers to be analyzed by Advisor in the cloud. To install the Advisor agent, run AdvisorSetup.exe on each computer than needs an agent. The Advisor agent configuration wizard needs to know the fully qualified domain name (FQDN) of your Advisor gateway.

About

John Joyner, MCSE, CMSP, MVP Cloud and Datacenter Management, is senior architect at ClearPointe, a cloud provider of systems management services. He is co-author of the "System Center Operations Manager: Unleashed" book series from Sams Publishing, ...

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