In-Depth

MOM 2005 Feels the Love

Readers generally like what they see in the 2005 makeover of Microsoft Operations Manager, citing improved usability, better reporting and expanded monitoring.

MOM 2005, the latest version of Microsoft Operations Manager, is clearly an evolution, marked by subtle ease-of-use and flexibility improvements rather than major, sweeping changes. Its predecessor, MOM 2000, was good enough to win our 2005 Readers' Choice Award for general network monitoring. Now that MOM 2005 has made its way to the workplace, we checked in with users to get some real-world impressions.

In general, Redmond readers who've used MOM are pleased with its usability, monitoring capabilities and report-generating tools. However, MOM does seem to be lacking in some areas, including wireless notification capabilities.

Smooth Running
Users give MOM 2005 high marks for overall performance and operation. An improved interface is one of the new version's highly touted changes, and one that Redmond readers applaud. Management of MOM itself is now handled from the Microsoft Management Console (MMC), but server operators primarily use the new Operator Console. Based on the Outlook 2003 interface, this console offers easy access to server groups.

Steve Andrews, senior system administrator at Veritasiti, a Los Angeles media rating organization, says the new console was a "pleasant surprise." Veritasiti has experience with MOM 2000 (although MOM 2005 was a clean install), and Andrews says the roll-up displays in the Operator Console enable at-a-glance status checks—a yellow X icon indicates an impaired server, while a red icon denotes a serious problem.

MOM 2005's performance also draws significant praise. "Speed and response have been outstanding," Andrews says. "We use MOM to monitor our development [as well as production] platforms, and our engineers say it tells them within a few seconds if a site is down or a service not functioning."

Jay Weinberg, an administrator with the Florida Department of Health, agrees, calling MOM 2005's performance "impressive."

Readers report that MOM 2005 performs its core functions solidly. "[It] does a decent job of monitoring our environment &133; and notifying the appropriate people when services stop on mission-critical servers," says Scott Smith, a civilian contractor with Titan Corp. working for the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. At Wright-Patterson, the environment includes Server 2003, SQL 2000, LCS 2003, Exchange 2003 and SharePoint.

Chris Dalby, with London-based Yellow Park, agrees that monitoring is MOM's strength. "We have been extremely impressed by its monitoring scope and power," he explains. Yellow Park specializes in Web hosting, design and network services, and is a Microsoft Certified Partner. "We have not had time to continue configuring as much as we would have liked &133; Even so, it has already helped us so much. I've been particularly impressed with the way you have a centralized location to search through log files when solving a service failure or warning. This has enabled us to resolve emergencies after being e-mailed details of the critical warning or failure."

Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005

$729 MOM 2005 Server License;
$499 Workgroup Edition
Microsoft Corp.
800-426-9400
www.microsoft.com

The monitoring capabilities exceed expectations, according to Dalby. "MOM 2005 monitoring picks out stuff you would never really check, or possibly find," he says. "This does lend itself to a proactive approach to problem solving, helping to pre-empt problems and avoid failures." However, he notes, "It also leads to a great deal of staring at a screen reading logs."

According to Smith, MOM's meat-and-potatoes alerts and warnings are "solid and extensive." That's a key factor, he adds, because "this is where MOM admins will spend most of their time."

Smith notes that with the default installation, thousands of events are enabled, which means administrators could spend a lot of time analyzing alerts and determining next steps. "I disable the rule groups that aren't applicable to my environment," he says. "Additionally, I disable a lot of the scripts that MOM can kick off if certain events are recorded. I would prefer to have a system admin review the situation and make a determination of what corrective actions should be taken, instead of MOM taking the actions for me." 

Chris Dalby

"This really is a piece of software that all Microsoft networks need to subscribe to."

Chris Dalby
Yellow Park

Agents or No Agents?
MOM supports both agent-based and agentless architectures. The former is recommended, in part because any management tool that runs without agents uses more bandwidth as it pulls data from each managed device. For organizational reasons, some users must go agentless, and they appreciate MOM 2005's flexibility in doing so. "We have both agent-managed and agentless machines," says Smith. "The reason why I have both has to do with paperwork requirements for opening a port on the firewall, or several layers of firewalls."

Early reviews praised MOM 2005's agents as easy to deploy, with users able to either specify servers manually or target them directly from Active Directory. Not all readers agree though. Yellow Park's Dalby describes automatic agent installation as "a bit problematic initially. You need to open ports on firewalls and make sure the client machine can communicate directly with the server." He wishes the agent-installation procedure were simpler, but concedes he's not sure how this could be done.

Another area that draws mixed reviews from readers is reporting. MOM 2005 uses SQL Server Reporting Services (not offered with the Workgroup Edition), which means users enjoy a wide variety of report delivery mechanisms. Report customization features (also not available with Workgroup Edition), carried over from MOM 2000, are highly regarded by some Redmond readers. "There are a plethora of options for fine-tuning," Veritasiti's Andrews explains. "We go around to each business unit and get their unique reporting needs—and that's the way it should be."

Titan Corp.'s Smith agrees, to a point. "When I have had MOM and SQL Reporting Services working properly, the reporting functionality is very good," he says. However, he adds that it can be "a bit troublesome" to keep SQL Reporting Services running. "The most common trouble areas in my experience," he says, "have been related to mail delivery and data collection."

Installation Notes
Among Redmond readers, installation received mixed reviews. Some called the process "straightforward." Others, however, including Yellow Park's Chris Dalby, were put off by the sheer volume of required reading. "I was keen to get up and running fast. This didn't really turn out to be the case," Dalby says.

"MOM is a complex monitoring system, so a reasonable amount of reading is really necessary before installation," he adds. "On the plus side, there's a mass of documentation from Microsoft. The initial installation happened over a weekend after reading about five manuals."

Figure 1. MOM's admin console gives you a complete view and description of the groups under your control.
Figure 1. MOM’s admin console gives you a complete view and description of the groups under your control. (Click image to view larger version.)

Wish List for the Next MOM
So what changes would users like to see? Smith looks forward to easier-to-access technical assistance when he runs into trouble with MOM. "Finding resources to use for troubleshooting leaves a lot to be desired," he says. "Posting issues to the newsgroups isn't the most effective or efficient method for resolving issues, and some of the tools in the Resource Kit fail to install or work as described. Also, the documentation on changing passwords for the various MOM-related accounts is lacking."

In all fairness, Smith adds that he hasn't received any formal MOM 2005 training. The Wright-Patterson environment is unusual due to military regulations. A larger resource pool is sure to develop as the number of MOM 2005 users grows.

Indeed, Wright-Patterson's initial reason for procuring MOM 2005 didn't work out. "We originally wanted to use MOM to capture e-mail metrics, but soon realized it couldn't deliver what we were looking for," Smith says. Nevertheless, the Air Force base "still kept MOM in use due to its alerting and monitoring capabilities."

Some users wish MOM had more robust wireless capabilities. "I was disappointed to see you can't monitor MOM from a Pocket PC," Andrews says. Veritasiti administrators receive notifications from Exchange on their wireless devices, he says, but can't navigate the links in those notifications directly from the devices. They appear simply as "unclickable" strings of HTML, rendering the notifications "essentially useless," he says.

A Valuable Proposition
In the end, each Redmond reader we spoke with recommends MOM 2005. Generally, those recommendations are enthusiastic, albeit not without caveats. "This really is a piece of software that all Microsoft networks need to subscribe to," Dalby says. "I am continuing to test and develop on MOM, and hope we can encourage a few more features—simpler installation, immediate detailed status reports and text-message alerts."

Andrews says he would "absolutely recommend MOM." The Florida Department of Health's Weinberg concurs.

Wright-Patterson's Smith offers a more circumspect recommendation, along with some advice. "I need to give the product another couple of months to determine whether or not it will provide value in notifying sys admins before minor issues become major ones," he explains.

"Some of the sys admins have been asking for metrics on the systems they have responsibility for, and MOM can provide that information for them—provided I can sustain the SQL Reporting component. At this point, I would recommend MOM to others, but with a word of caution," Smith advises. "My advice is to spend a good deal of time planning on deploying MOM and tuning it to their environment before passing judgment on its pros and cons."

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