SCOM Management Pack for Exchange 2013 – Top 6 Things I Like

It was about a week ago when Microsoft announced an update for the SCOM Management Pack for Exchange 2013. This Management Pack made some buzz, frankly speaking I haven’t seen anything like that since TechEd NA 2014. If you’re curious, take a look at some of the blog posts (link, link, link, link, link, link, link). Impressive, isn’t it?

So, now when we’re done with high-level overview, let’s dive into very details and take a look at what’s under the hood.

Some basics

Download link.

Please note that this MP is NOT available from the catalog, go to the download page to get it.

Management pack includes 3 files:

Microsoft.Exchange.15.mp – contains new health model definition, as well as new rules, monitors, updated discovery workflow, folders and views. All these things are based on PowerShell scripts, which heavily use Exchange cmdlets.

Note that many rules share data sources, so if you want to play with interval parameters, try to keep the same value for all related rules. Otherwise you may occasionally affect the cook-down and get an extra monitoring footprint for your exchange servers. Considering that some E15 cmdlets are somewhat resource-intensive, this may add some extra headache for your fellow Exchange admins.

Microsoft.Exchange.15.Reports.mpb – contains report definitions. Unlike many other management packs, this MP doesn’t rely on generic reports library (except *health reports) and has its own definitions for performance and top/bottom reports. There is also one very custom report, based on custom dataset – “Top biggest mailboxes”.

Microsoft.Exchange.15.Visualization.Components.mpb – contains definitions and resources for dashboards, widgets and related components. Please note, that this file currently has a dependency on some SCOM 2012 R2 UR2 library MPs, so, if you haven’t upgraded yet, you’ll miss  dashboards with “almost a sexy look & feel” (© Marnix Wolf).

Top 6 things I like in this MP

Initially I wanted to write about “top 5” things, but failed to decide which one to exclude. Not all points are equally important for everyone, but, from my perspective, all things mentioned below are at least “interesting”.

1. Multiple organizations

I’m not sure that managing multiple Exchange organizations via one SCOM management group is a common scenario. But if you’re a seasoned Exchange admin who is responsible for overseeing multi-tenant environment (or something like that), my congratulations – you’re covered! This MP natively supports multiple orgs. The only limitation is organization’s name – there should be no duplicates within SCOM management group.

2. Support for localized versions of Exchange 2013

If you’re running localized version of Exchange 2013 and/or localized version of server OS (like German, French, Russian, etc.), my congratulations – you’re covered! Well, almost… I advise you to refer to the last section of MP guide – some I/O counters will not be collected for languages other than English.

By the way, this point deserves a special note about how this is achieved. Exchange manages its performance counters in a somewhat special way – unlike OS ones, these counters do not have fixed IDs, so name lookup is the only option. If you’re curious about details, you may unseal the MP and study the implementation yourself.

3. Organization topology

The updated version of the SCOM management pack for Exchange Server 2013 has many “container” objects. These objects (AD Site, DAG, Mailbox servers, Client Access Servers) form a representation of Exchange organization:

org diagram

Another notable thing is that the updated version of MP doesn’t discover a containment relationship between the Health Set object and containers (AD Site, DAG). Health Sets are hosted at servers, so the health rolls up from Health Sets through Servers through Containers to  Organization.

4. UI & UX

I can write many words here, but pictures are the best story-tellers in this case:

Red/Green cells – show how many child objects are unhealthy/healthy. You may hover the cursor to see more details.

Exchange 2013 MP - rainbow cell

Blue-bar cells. Visually shows the latest value of the respective counter.

Exchange 2013 MP - bluebar cell

Grid can be filtered by state – see the guide for details.

widget - grid filter by state

Blue-bar top/bottom tiles – shows which sub-objects consume resources and may require attention. Tooltips may have more details if some text doesn’t fit.

Exchange 2013 MP - bluebar tile

Tile container can be filtered. Let’s say you experience high CPU utilization. Tile container allows you to get all related information by pressing just 3 buttons.

widget - tiles filter

5. Custom data sets

Yeah, this is my favorite one. There are two places, where you can see the data collected using “custom data set”  technique: the number of mailboxes at dashboards and “Top Biggest Mailboxes” report. These data simply do not fit into any other data set. By the way, the MP collects a way more data than it shows via UI. If you’re interested and have an access to your SCOM data warehouse database – take a look – there are some interesting views in the Exchange2013 schema.

6. Rich reporting

As I have already mentioned, SCOM management pack for Exchange Server 2013 doesn’t rely on MS Generic Report Library and uses its own definitions for base performance and top/bottom reports. Why? Here are the reasons:

  1. There is no base report in the generic report library which can show top/bottom objects AND instances. Exchange 2013 MP collects tons of multi-instance performance counters, so “just object” or “just instance” simply doesn’t fit.
  2. Usability. By selecting the set of the rules on the right side of parameters panel you define what you want to see. Do you know what is the target for those rules? Heck, no! In this MP, performance reports do the dirty job for you – you do not need to search for counters you need, you do not need to be very precise with the scope. The report helps you and shows what it has for you in the mart. From my personal perspective – all other MPs should also move that way.

Exchange 2013 MP - report paraml

Conclusion

That is it. There will be no conclusion. I just like these bits. What about you?

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