MMS 2010 Keynote: Server Management

I’m tuning into the live webcast of today’s (there’s another tomorrow) Microsoft Management Summit 2010 keynote featuring server management.  I’ll be doing my best to blog about new stuff as it happens.

System Center Service Manager 2010 is announced as RTM.  Sorry dudes!  YEARS of work (and rework) and I thought you’d get more of a launch than that.

Jeez, an hour later and I’ve not got much more to report.  There’s a lot of talk about cloud (nothing new) and a lot of talk about old concepts (using System Center to do more, and more engineering rather than operations).

EDIT: Someone on Twitter counted the number of times “cloud” was mentioned.  The final count was 83.  Cloud OD.

The next generation of System Center data center is based on lessons from Azure and Bing.  Edwin Yuen hits the stage.  Now we’re cooking!

VMM v.Next

It looks quite different!  It has the cleaner v.Next interface rather than the Outlook 2007 one we are used to.  Server application virtualization, SQL models and MSDeploy (IIS) packages live in the library.  The template model is evolved to a service template spanning multiple servers or tiers.  We see a demo of a 3 tier application.  You can drop OS templates (that we know) and “Server App-V”/MSDeploy packages which we can drop into the model.  You can say that you want X numbers of server in a tier in the model.  You can tier your storage to standard or high performance.  So you’ve got X variations of servers made from a few Server App-V images and OS templates. 

Seriously – I could use this right now.  I have recurring deployments that I could model like this.

You can integrate with WSUS and perform a patching compliance report based on the VHD in the library!  You can then remediate this image in the library.  Now – VMM knows which VMM managed VM’s need to be updated!  You don’t need to patch the running VM OS.   You can <Update Service>, to replace the running OS, while keeping the Server App-V package.

Operations Manager & Azure

How you can monitor Azure and on-premises for seamless application monitoring using OpsMgr 2007 R2.  We see a distributed application containing traditional monitored items (including databases and web watchers) and an Azure presence.  OpsMgr integrates into Azure using a soon-to-be-released (“later this year sometime”) management pack to gather performance information.  A task is there to add new web role instances in Azure.  Nice and simple! 

Deployment of more Azure instances is based on real (synthetic transaction monitoring) measured performance data.  Expansion (or withdrawal) of new instances can be easily done through the same monitoring interface based in your site.

That’s the end.  Really only had good content in the last 22 minutes of a 82 minute keynote.  A quite short post compared to what I would do at an MS Ireland event lasting the same time (see last week for a 3 hour session).

MS Ireland Event: Best of MMS 2010

Microsoft Ireland are hosting a “best of” event with content and some speakers from the Microsoft Management Summit that is on this week.  Registration is open now.  The two sessions I’m most looking forward to are the ConfigMgr V.Next one by Jeff Wettlaufer and the Opalis session by Greg Charman.

It sounds like something similar is being done in the UK so you folks should watch the local blogs, events pages and emails.  Considering all the volcano ash disruptions, very few people from Europe who were even registered will get to go.

Configuration Manager 2007 Dashboard

The ConfigMgr 2007 Dashboard is a recently released free add-on from MS to allow you to quickly view the status of the most important items in your deployment.  The listed benefits are:

  • Actionable information out of the box. The dashboard comes with a wide range of valuable, built-in reports that IT managers can access without using the Configuration Manager console.
  • Centralized, near-real-time access to key information. The graphical dashboard lets customers view any Configuration Manager data set in near-real time—without leaving their desk.
  • Easy to build and configure. The dashboard’s wizard-based tools let customers easily create new dashboards in minutes.
  • Easy to customize. The dashboard can easily be customized to meet the needs of different departments and other groups. Any data set in the Configuration Manager database can be presented on the dashboard, in chart, gauge, and table formats.
  • Flexible & interactive. Users can easily filter data and create ad hoc, custom views. Filters allow users to quickly drill down from high-level to more specific data.

It had been a long time since I’d done any ConfigMgr work.  But recent lab work using a couple of deployments got me hooked with this uber powerful system.  It’s huge, can put it’s fingers (at your control) into everything, and puts you firmly in control.  Pair it with OpsMgr and the network is tamed like a wild horse.  The Dashboard will give you a customisable at-a-glimpse view of what is going on in ConfigMgr, just like you already can do with dashboards in OpsMgr.

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Elastic Virtualisation With System Center

Today I was working with a customer who needed to grow their hosted presence with us due to performance and scaling requirements.  OpsMgr ProTips alerts made us aware of certain things that got the customer and us working.  A VMM library template machine was quickly deployed to meet the sudden requirements.  That got me thinking about how OpsMgr and VMM could be used in a large virtualised (and even physical) application environment to scale out and in as required.  All of this is just ideas.  I’m sure it’s possible, I just haven’t taken things to this extreme.


Let’s take the above crude example.  There are a number of web servers.  They’re all set up as dumb appliances with no content.  All the content and web configurations are on a pair of fault tolerance content servers.  The web servers are load balanced, maybe using appliances or maybe by reverse proxies.  It’s possible to quickly deploy these web servers from VM templates.  That’s because the deployed machines all have DHCP addresses and they store no content or website configuration data.

The next tier in the application is typically the application server.  This design is also built to be able to scale out or in.  There is a transaction queuing server.  It receives a job and then dispatches that job to some processing servers.  These transaction servers are all pretty dumb.  They have an application and know to receive workloads from the queuing server.  Again, they’re built from an image and have DHCP addresses.

All VM templates are stored in the VMM library.

All of this is monitored using Operations Manager.  Custom management packs have been written and distributed application monitoring is configured.  For example, average CPU and memory utilisation is  monitored across the web farm.  An alert will be triggered if this gets too high.  A low water mark is also configured to detect when demand is low.

The web site is monitored using a captured web/user perspective transaction.  Response times are monitored and this causes alerts if they exceed pre-agreed thresholds. 

The Queuing server’s queue is also monitored.  It should never exceed a certain level, i.e. there is more work than there are transaction servers to process it.  A low water mark is also configured, e.g. there is less work than there are transaction servers.

So now OpsMgr knows when we have more work than resources, and when we have more resources than we have work for.  This means we only need a mechanism to add VM’s when required and to remove VM’s when required.  And don’t forget those hosts!  You’ll need to be able to deploy hosts.  I’ll come back to that one later.

Deploying VM’s can be automated.  We know that we can save a PowerShell job into the library when we create a VM, etc.  Do that and you have your VM.  You can even use the GUIRunOnce option to append customisation scripts, e.g. naming of servers, installation of updates/software, etc.  Now you just need a trigger.  We have one.

When OpsMgr fires an alert it is possible to associate a recovery task with the alert.  For example, the average CPU/Memory across the web farm is too high.  Or maybe the response time across the farm is too slow.  Simple – the associated response is to run a PowerShell script to deploy a new web server.  10 minutes later and the web server is operational.  We already know it’s set to use DHCP so that’s networking sorted.  The configuration and the web content are stored off of the web server so that’s that sorted.  The load balancing needs to be updated – I’d guess some amendment to the end of the PowerShell script could take care of that.

The same goes for the queuing server.  Once the workloads exceed the processing power a new VM can be deployed within a few minutes and start taking on tasks.  They’re just dumb VM’s.  Again, the script would need to authorise the VM with the queuing process.

That’s the high water mark.  We know every business has highs and lows.  Do we want to waste Hyper-V host resources on idle VM’s?  Nope!  So when those low water marks are hit we need to remove VM’s.  That one’s a little more complex.  The PowerShell script here will probably need to be aware of the right VM to remove.  I’d think about this idea:  The deploy VM’s would update a file or a database table somewhere.  Thing of it like a buffer.  The oldest VM’ should then be the first one removed.  Why?  Because we Windows admins prefer newly built machines – they tend to be less faulty than ones that have been around a while.

With all that in place you can deploy VM’s to meet demands and remove VM’s when they are redundant to free up physical resources for other applications.

What about when you run out of Hyper-V server resources?  There most basic thing you need to do here is know that you need to buy hardware.  Few of us have it sitting around and we run on budgets and on JIT (just in time) principles.  Again, you’d need to do some clever management pack authoring (way beyond me to be honest) to detect how full your Hyper-V cluster was.  When you get to a trigger point, e.g. starting  to work on your second last host, you get an alert.  The resolution is buy a server and rack it.  You can then use whatever build mechanism you want to deploy the host.  The next bit might be an option if you do have servers sitting around and can trigger it using Wake-On-Lan.

ConfigMgr will run a job to deploy an operating system to the idle server.  It’s just a plain Windows Server installation image.  Thanks to task sequences and some basic Server Manager PowerShell cmdlets, you can install the Hyper-V role and the Failover Clustering feature after the image deployment.  A few reboots happen.  You can then add it to the Hyper-V cluster.  You can approach this one from other angles, e.g. add the host into VMM which triggers a Hyper-V installation.

Now that is optimisation and dynamic IT!  All that’s left is for the robots to rise – there’s barely a human to be seen in the process once its all implemented.  I guess your role would be to work on the next generation of betas and release candidates so you can upgrade all of this when the time comes.

I’ve not read much about Opalis (recently aquired by Microsoft) but I reckon it could play a big role in this sort of deployment.  Microsoft customers who are using System Management Suite CAL’s (SMSE/SMSD) will be able to use Opalis.  Integration packs for the other System Center products are on the way in Q3.

System Center Configuration Manager 2007 Guides

Microsoft published a bunch of guides for engineers and administrators who work with ConfigMgr 2007:

  • System Center Configuration Manager 2007 Deployment Guide: This guidance provides information on how to design and deploy a Configuration Manager infrastructure within a healthcare organization. It allows the healthcare organization to be confident that the Configuration Manager infrastructure being designed and deployed is using current best practice.
  • System Center Configuration Manager 2007 Operating System Deployment Guide: This guidance helps healthcare organizations when implementing and using the operating system deployment feature of Configuration Manager. This guidance provides the information required to quickly become familiar with the operating system deployment feature and understand the appropriate decisions that need to be made in order to deploy and use the solution. It also provides step-by-step guidance showing how to install and configure the required components, and also how to use the most common features.
  • System Center Configuration Manager 2007 Software Distribution Guide: This guidance provides the information required to quickly become familiar with the software distribution feature and understand the appropriate decisions that need to be made in order to deploy and use the solution. It also provides step-by-step guidance showing how to create the objects required within Configuration Manager to perform the software distribution.
  • System Center Configuration Manager Software Update Management Guide: This guidance provides the information required to quickly become familiar with the software update feature, and understand the appropriate decisions that need to be made in order to deploy and use the solution. It also provides step-by-step guidance showing how to install and configure the required components, and how to use the most common features.

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System Center Influencers Blog Feed

I’m lucky enough to be a part of Microsoft’s System Center Influencers group.  VMM is one of my core things.  I’m a user of OpsMgr and I’ll blog about what I learn and do with that too.  I used to be a ConfigMgr MVP but I’ve fallen out of step with it because of changes in work but I like to stay in touch.  We don’t use DPM as a core product but Hyper-V keeps it interesting for me.  And that’s just the start of System Center!

The folks behind System Center Influencers have a blog feed gathering content from the members.  You can see our blog posts in one central point.  Check it out.

Configuration Manager V.Next TAP Starts

Microsoft has started the Technology Adopter Program nomination process for the next major release (not 2007 R3) of Configuration Manager (ConfigMgr, SCCM).  That means a CTP or beta cannot be far off.

We got a brief look at ConfigMgr V.Next at TechEd in Berlin.  Wow, what a leap this product is making.  It just seems more elegant.  ConfigMgr is a huge product and can seem very daunting.  But once you get over the core basics you soon realise which bits are important and which aren’t to your organisation.  But few get over that hump from what I can see – around these parts – which is rather unfortunate because I just love how powerful ConfgMgr is.

The really cool part of V.Next was the self service model.  Driven by a Silverlight portal, a user could request a package installation.  A workflow decides where to start a install now or send an approval request to a budget owner (or admin or security).  When the package is approved the site triggers the agent to install immediately – no waiting around for 1 hour.

I really hope I get time to play with ConfigMgr later this year.  As a former MVP in that expertise, I’ve fallen out of the loop.  I no longer work with the product because it’s not useful in our field.  But I’m sure I will work with it again in the future.

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