UPDATE: System Center Advisor Service Now Available
Microsoft rolled out its System Center Advisor service last week, which provides a best-practices check on server deployments.
The service, formerly code-named "Atlanta," is a new service addition to Microsoft's System Center management suite. It works with SQL Server 2008 and up, Windows Server 2008 and up and Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V, as well as Active Directory, according to Microsoft's description. The Advisor service runs off Windows Azure, Microsoft's cloud-computing platform, and gathers information via agents installed on the customer's server. The data get compared with Microsoft's best practices and users get alerts about issues such as missing patches and server misconfigurations, among other matters.
Advisor is available to use at no extra cost for Microsoft server customers with Software Assurance (SA). However, one catch is that an organization needs to have SA licensing purchased for each server product to use the agent on each server, according to Microsoft's pricing and licensing page. Licensing for Advisor is available through Enterprise Agreements or Open Value volume licensing.
Although Advisor currently works with just two servers, Microsoft expects to make it available for its other server products in the future, according to the company's announcement.
Users of Advisor get the alerts through a Web browser, which broadens access possibilities. The alerts are color-coded via a red-, yellow- and green-lit dashboard, as shown here. The alerts typically direct users to KnowledgeBase articles for a fix, if one is available. Advisor uses the same agent infrastructure as System Center Operations Manager, according to a presentation given by Sachin Agrawal at Microsoft Tech-Ed North America 2011 in May. It taps into alert data that Microsoft uploads every day, he explained.
The information collected by Advisor can be communicated to Microsoft Customer Support Services, if users opt to do so. It allows Microsoft Support to look at historical data. Presumably, any remediation offered by Microsoft Support would be an additional cost. On Tuesday, a Microsoft spokesperson challenged this idea and offered the following clarification:
"There is no new, special remediation fee associated with Advisor," the spokesperson explained via e-mail. "Any support costs are dependent on the program customers have."
Microsoft claims that it collects server data anonymously from its customers. The whole data collection process is used to generate best practices for server configurations.
"Advisor has visibility into only those servers with agents deployed on them, and Microsoft does not share your data with any third party," the company explains in a datasheet publication.
Advisor currently is available in 26 countries. It can also be tested as a free trial for 60 days and installed from this System Center Advisor site.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.