Monday, January 5, 2015

SCOM In The Cloud: Meet ‘Microsoft Azure Operational Insights’

The day the service Microsoft System Center Advisor (SCA) became General Available (GA) it was in my opinion a matter of time before it would become the cloud based monitoring solution. Why? Many reasons but the most obvious are:

  1. The same SCOM architecture is being used (Gateway Server/SCOM Agent);
  2. Management Packs were also used, especially modified for the purpose of SCA.

And yes, I know. SCA wasn’t a monitoring solution at all. It simply checked your environment against the Best Practices and reported any drifting. On the website of SCA one could simply see what servers/products weren’t configured as Best Practices advised. Products like Windows Server, Hyper-V, SQL Server, Active Directory and UC were covered.

So data collection – based on the modified SCA MPs – runs through the day and only once per day (at night) the collected results are uploaded to SCA. In the cloud the collected results are compared to the Best Practices and any found drifts are made available for the subscriber of that service.

SCA is no more, say hello to Microsoft Azure Operational Insights – PREVIEW…
For some time now SCA isn’t available anymore as a stand alone service but is integrated into the cloud based service Microsoft Azure Operational Insights. When you go to the website you’ll see this message:

However, the redirection won’t take you to the website but instead. And as the URL implies, this new service is in preview mode. Until now it isn’t clear when it will become GA. It also depends in what region your company resides.

Even though Microsoft Azure Operational Insights is in preview mode only for now, it’s still very interesting and already delivering good functionality. For instance the SCA functionality is fully available but is only a SMALL part of what it has to offer.

For now it offers:

  • Log Management;
  • Capacity Planning (connection with an on-prem SCOM 2012 SP1 or later MG is required);
  • Update Assessment;
  • Change Tracking.

And as long it’s in preview mode it’s totally free as stated on the FAQ page:

So when you’re running some test servers with limited internet access (only port 443 is required and some websites) I strongly advise to run the preview version of Microsoft Azure Operational Insights. And yes, integration with a SCOM 2012 SP1 or later MG is also possible. Only requirement is that you install the latest Cumulative Update (SCOM 2012 SP1) or Update Rollup Package (SCOM 2012 R2).

A quick overview of Microsoft Azure Operational Insights – PREVIEW
Signing up is very easy. Simply follow an interactive flow chart outlining every requires step and before you know it you’re using this new service. But before I continue I want to talk a LITTLE bit about AD integration.

Do I require AD integration (on-prem <> Azure AD)?
Of course, you can integrate your local AD with Azure Active Directory, but until now this isn’t a requirement at all. Of course, when this Azure service becomes GA and you want to make full use of it, it’s better to have both AD environments syncing with each other since it makes account and authorization management far more easier and less prone to errors. But for testing purposes, AD integration isn’t needed at all.

Signing up process. Life made easy…
So let’s continue. Simply go to the website and hit one of the many Try Now buttons. Immediately you’re presented with two options: Whether you want to connect the (test) servers to Microsoft Azure Operational Insights directly or through your on-prem SCOM MG:

Even when you choose the option Connect Servers Directly, you still can connect your SCOM 2012x MG to Microsoft Azure Operational Insights in a later phase.

No matter what option you choose, the next question is the same: What type of account you want to use to connect to Microsoft Azure Operational Insights. Whether an Organizational Account (account used by your company for Office 365 or other Azure based services etc.) or a Microsoft Account (Xbox, Outlook, Skype, OneDrive etc).

So it’s up to you (actually more your COMPANY) what type of account to use. No matter what type of account you use, at a certain moment you’ve to sign in with the account you’ve chosen:


Download the Agent (YES! It’s the Microsoft Monitoring Agent (MMA) with some added features, more about that later on) and install it on every server you want to be monitored by Microsoft Azure Operational Insights.

All you’ve got to do is to enter some additional information which tells the MMA to connect to Microsoft Azure Operational Insights. For this two types of information are required: Workspace ID and Workspace Key (Yikes! ‘Workspace’ makes me think about that gruesome product ‘Lotus Notes’….). Again the same flowchart tells you how to obtain that information:

However, when you install this new MMA on a server where a MMA is already present and reporting to an on-prem SCOM 2012 SP1 or later MG, that MMA will be removed and upgraded. The configuration from the previous MMA will be copied into the newly installed MMA so it continues to report to your on-prem SCOM 2012 SP1 or later MGs. HOWEVER, the MMA must be manually configured to report to Microsoft Azure Operational Insights as well:

  1. Go to Control Panel > Microsoft Monitoring Agent. You’ll notice two new tabs are added: Azure Operational Insights and Proxy Settings:
  2. The names of these new tabs are self-explanatory. First configure the proxy (when required) by using the tab Proxy Settings. When configured correctly, use the tab Azure Operational Insights for enabling the MMA to report to this new service, like this:
    Click Apply and now the connection with Microsoft Azure Operational Insights will be tested. When all is okay you’ll see this message:
    Now you can click OK.

When you install the MMA on a server where no MMA is already present the required information (Workspace ID and Workspace Key) will be requested during the same installation procedure:

  1. As you can see, the MMA has a new option added to it in order to connect to Microsoft Azure Operational Insights:
  2. The option Advanced allows you to enter the correct Proxy settings (URL and account details):

  3. The rest is just as easy as installing any other MMA.

Intelligence Packs?! What are those?
When you’re working in your own ‘space’ of Microsoft Azure Operational Insights, you’ll see soon enough the Intelligence Packs tile. These are the revamped MPs, especially for Microsoft Azure Operational Insights.

And as it is with SCOM on-prem (the monitoring capabilities and intelligence are based on the imported and configured MPs), it’s the same for Microsoft Azure Operational Insights.

In order to get the best impression about the current state of this new service, I advise to add ALL available Intelligence Packs. It’s a simple process so I won’t explain it to you since I am afraid I would insult you. It’s like telling you how to start a browser session…

Patience is a virtue
Please be patient. It will take a while before the first servers show up in Microsoft Azure Operational Insights. So wait. And YES, it might be a good idea to reboot the server when the MMA is updated. For me it made things work Smile with tongue out.

STATE information and Microsoft Azure Operational Insights
Until now you won’t see any STATE information like you see in on-prem SCOM. So don’t go looking for it in Microsoft Azure Operational Insights since it’s simply not there (yet?).

Additional (pricing) information
Oleg Kapustin wrote some months ago an excellent article about the price model used for Microsoft Azure Operational Insights. For now this new service is only available for the East US region.

In the same posting Oleg has some questions about how to estimate the real costs. And I must say I concur with him. Hopefully it will be easier to have a better insight in the real costs when the new service becomes GA.

I dare to say it’s a REQUIREMENT since the ability to have a good understanding of the real costs of IT is one of the pillars of the cloud adoption…

To be continued…
In some new postings I’ll tell more about how the MMA works with Microsoft Azure Operational Insights and what happens under water. Always good to know some more information when troubleshooting is required.

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