Friday, October 16, 2015

MP Authoring: What Toolset To Use & Why

When authoring MPs one can choose from multiple tools, where every tool has some advantages and disadvantages. This posting sums up the tools available and the reasons why (or why not) to use them and in what circumstances.
One thing to keep in mind…
When I talk about MP Authoring I don’t mean creating a couple of Rules, Monitors or Views. That’s just extending the existing monitoring footprint. With MP Authoring I mean creating multiple Classes, Relationships, Discoveries, Monitors, Rules, Views and the lot.
  1. SCOM 2012x Console > Authoring
    Yikes! This IS NOT a MP Authoring tool at all actually. Sure, you can create Monitors/Rules, some of them by the help of a wizard, found under Management Pack Templates. However, in general it will create XML code loaded with GUIDs instead human readable and understandable names. And when one of the MP Templates is used, a whole sh#!t load of additional XML bloat code is generated, making it even harder to maintain a MP like that.

    On top of it all, you can’t create a new Class here nor any related Discovery. Sure, you can extend an existing Class with a related registry Discovery, but that creates a whole new ‘pain’ in your SCOM environment, so my advice is to stay away from that option all together.

    Conclusion: Use the SCOM 2012x Console > Authoring option only for creating some basic Monitors, Rules or Groups in order to  streamline your notifications, overrides, views and so on. But don’t use it for serious MP authoring since it’s falling short for it.


  2. SCOM 2007 R2 Authoring Resource Kit > Authoring Console
    Before SCOM 2012x became GA, this was for a long time to author MPs. Even though it can be still downloaded, it’s discontinued by Microsoft. Sure, you can still author MPs with it but since it’s targeted at SCOM 2007, it doesn’t support the new XMP MP schema used by SCOM 2012x. I know, when importing a MP like that in SCOM 2012x, it will work. And when exporting it, the XML schema will be set to SCOM 2012x. Still, it’s usability is limited.

    Also it doesn’t support the new dashboards present in SCOM 2012x, limiting it’s usability even further.

    Conclusion: It has been for some time the MP Authoring tool, but it’s outdated by now. The only use case scenario is when authoring MPs for SCOM 2007x environments. But in a situation like this one has to start migrating away from it, to a brand new SCOM 2012 R2 MG. In all other cases, don’t use it. Instead, take a serious look at Silect MP Author, as discussed below.


  3. Silect MP Author
    This is the new MP authoring tool, targeted at the IT Pro. This tool is available for free. Even though Silect has built it (and maintains it as well), Microsoft has paid Silect some money which is reasonable. The tool itself is mainly wizard driven, making it easier for the user to author a MP. While going through the wizard many comments containing Silect’s name are added. And even when removing or modifying those, a few more are added as well which can only be removed by using Notepad++ for instance.

    None the less, this tool allows you to author good MPs with relatively clean XML code, which makes maintenance a better job. Because of the wizards one doesn’t require a real deep understanding while authoring a MP. Also the sealing of the MP is made easy. With nothing but a simple mouse click it’s sealed. Silect delivers the MP Author key for it but you’re free to use the key used by your company, which is a better choice.

    As a downside, the same wizards used to create Classes and related Discoveries (aka Registry/WMI/Script Targets), Rules, Monitors, Views and Folders, are a ‘one-way street’ only. Meaning that when something is created and it must be modified, it can’t be edited easily anymore without modifying the underlying XML code, requiring deeper knowledge and experience with the MP XML code, tags and construction.

    Also some options are greyed out like authoring Classes, Rollup Monitors, Process Monitors and Relationships, limiting the kind of MPs one can author. These options are available in the paid version of MP Author which is part of MP Studio.

    But there are also MANY plusses. Like postings written by Kevin Holman how to build quickly and efficiently your own MPs with their own Classes, Discoveries, Monitors and Views. So creating a new MP of your own is really like a walk in the park. These are his postings: Using MPAuthor to create a class, discover and monitor a service, MPAuthor - Using a PowerShell script to collect performance data in a SCOM rule – 101, MPAuthor – A more advanced PowerShell Performance Collection Rule.

    Conclusion: This tool is value for money and the tool for the IT pro who want’s to build MPs based on relatively clean XML code, without requiring a deep understanding of it. With the postings from Kevin one is quick on track, capable of building far more better MPs without deep understanding of the underlying XML. These MPs are also far more better than the ones build in the SCOM Console itself.

    However, since the capabilities of the free version are limited, it’s not the tool to build real complex MPs, requiring additional relationships, rollup monitors and so on. Also maintenance on previous built targets, Rules, Monitors, Views isn’t done easy because the GUI doesn’t expose it all. Instead one has to work directly in the XML code itself. None the less, it’s far more better than the previous mentioned tools and has an easy access level for the IT Pro requiring customized monitoring in their SCOM environment.


  4. Silect – MP Studio
    This is the flagship product of Silect. It enables one to have a repository of all the MPs imported in the SCOM environment, complete with advanced version control and management (and much more). On top of it all MP Author is included in MP Studio WITH all options available. So with this version of MP Author it’s easier to build more complex and advanced MPs, again without requiring the knowledge of the underlying XML code.

    Conclusion: When you require a tool to maintain your MPs in an advanced way, this is the tool to use. As an added bonus it contains the full blown version of MP Author, allowing for authoring more complex MPs. Still the same disadvantages as mentioned before with MP Author are at play here. So maintaining a MP requires many times to edit the XML code directly, which is only feasible when one has a thorough understanding of it all. And yet, for many IT Pro’s it’s a seriously good tool for MP authoring.


  5. Visual Studio with Authoring Extensions (VSAE)This is the MP Authoring tool targeted at developers, allowing to build the most advanced and complex MPs. With the Authoring Extensions Visual Studio ‘gains’ a deep understanding of the XML code used by MPs. Combined with snippets, templates and IntelliSense, one can build kick ass MPs.

    The price of this package is between zero euro’s/dollars up to many hundreds, depending on the version of Visual Studio you’re using. When running the Community version this whole package (AE included) comes for free.

    And even though it’s primarily aimed at developers, it can be used by IT Pro’s as well, thanks to the help of Graham Davies who has written a series of low level entry postings about how to build some good MPs with VSAE, aimed at the IT Pro. Combined with the MVA training – written by Brian Wren – about VSAE, there is enough material going around for the interested IT Pro about how to use VSAE.

    Still, a good understanding of the underlying XML code is required. Without it you can’t create a Class, nor a related Discovery for instance. And this is where it all starts. Maintenance here is relatively easy since the wizards are two-way streets here, GUI driven. Also copying code, Rules, Discoveries and Monitors for instance, is super easy, enabling you to author a MP super fast. Also the error check when building the MP saves a lot of time. The error codes help you to solve issues rather easy, compared to the errors thrown by SCOM itself when importing a MP derails.

    On top of it, VSAE enables you to test drive specific workflows of your MPs. This way you can see whether it works as intended.

    Conclusion: VSAE is the next level of MP Authoring. When being a MP pro and not feeling comfortable with XML code, used by MPs, stay with Silect MP Author. When hungry for more knowledge, understanding of MP XML coding, flexibility in authoring your own MPs and easier maintenance, this is the tool to use. Also with the previous mentioned postings written by Graham, one can built SUPER fast a Distributed Application, diagram view included.
Recap
IMHO it comes basically down to two MP authoring tools: MP Author (free or paid version) and VSAE. Both tools have their advantages and downsides. MP Author has a low level entrance, enabling fast MP development. However, serious MPs have a life cycle, requiring maintenance. And the maintenance in MP Author is mostly done by editing the XML directly since one can’t edit much of it anymore in the GUI.
 
So in the long run VSAE is the winner for me personally. And yes, it takes more time to learn it and to maintain that experience and knowledge (only doable when authoring MPs on a regular basis), but when you get the hang of it, you’ll love it.
 
Still I see serious use cases for MP Author since you can’t expect from all IT Pro’s to run VSAE. There is already enough on their regular to do list . It comes down to your own time, schedule, eagerness to learn some (or more when using VSAE) new stuff.
Since both are available for free, test drive them and decide it for yourself. Feel free to comment on this posting.

2 comments:

ianblyth said...

Good summary. I was thinking of doing a similar post but you beat me to it.

Some points.
The 2007 Authoring Console still has its uses especially if you know it as 2007 MPs can be imported into 2012. But it is very useful for creating code and seeing the XML to help make the transition to VSAE.

Visual Studio Community Edition is free but if you use VS in an enterprise company then you must use the paid for version.
https://www.visualstudio.com/support/legal/dn877550

Even with the very good series done by Brian Wren and Graham Davies it is still a steep learning curve to use VS for an IT Pro.

Ian Blyth

Jason Aranha said...

Nice blog, Thanks for the Details explanation, I was looking for this for Long.

In VSAE the only problem I have so far encountered working with XML code if the code is correct [U believe it] and VS throw Error during the Build, Copy it in different XML Fragment and then run the build.

Also I have noticed in VSAE in some XML Fragment if there is an XML Commented Section which is usually "" the build error out , so it good to remove the commented session totally from XML Fragment . [Do this only if your Build Error out and you don`t know what is causing it]