Wednesday, May 24, 2017

System Center 2016 Update Rollup 3 Is Out

Yesterday Microsoft released Update Rollup 3 (UR#3) for System Center 2016. UR#3 contains a bunch of fixes for SCOM 2016 issues. KB4016126 contains the whole list of the fixes for SCOM 2016.

And YES, the earlier mentioned APM issue of the MMA crashing IIS Application Pools running under .NET Framework 2.0 is fixed with this UR!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

‘Mobile First–Cloud First’ Strategy – How About System Center – 02 – SCCM

Advice to the reader
This posting is part of a series of articles. In order to get a full grasp of it, I strongly advise you to start at the beginning of it.

Other postings in the same series:
01 – Kickoff
03 – SCOrch
04 – SCDPM
05 – SCSM
06 – SCVMM
07 – SCOM 

In the second posting of this series I’ll write about how SCCM relates to Microsoft’s Mobile First – Cloud First strategy. Reason why I start with SCCM is because this component is quite special compared to the other System Center stack components. For a long time already it has it’s own space, even outside the regular SC stack. There is much to tell, so let’s start.

Big dollars
First of all SCCM is still BIG business for Microsoft. We all know that Microsoft makes a lot of money so when something is BIG business to them, think BIG as well Smile. Many enterprise customers use SCCM and not just some parts of it, but to it’s fullest extend. All this results into SCCM being one of Microsoft’s flagship product/service, thus getting proper funding and resource allocation, combined with a healthy and clear roadmap.

Even though SCCM still has System Center in it’s name, it’s being pushed outside the regular System Center stack more and more. And yes, I do see (and respect) the suspected reasons behind it all.

Current Branch (CB)
For some time now SCCM has introduced a new approach to software maintenance. As such SCCM no longer adheres to the well known ‘Mainstream Support & Extended Support’ end date model which is still in place for the other components of the System Center stack.

Instead SCCM is updated on an almost quarterly basis, meaning SCCM gets about 4(!) updates per year! Which is quite impressive. However, with this new approach new branding is required AND a new support model. Even for a company like Microsoft it’s undoable to support a plethora of SCCM versions for many years.

So instead of using a year branding like SCOM 2016, a new kind of boiler plate was invented, titled Current Branch (CB) release. Now the CB releases of SCCM are made up like SCCM YYMM. Some examples: SCCM 1610, SCCM 1702 and so on. So SCCM 1702 is the CB release of 2017 (17) and the second month (02) of that year.

And not just that, but there are even CB releases with a MONTHLY cycle. However, those CB releases are kept inside a small circle existing out of Microsoft itself and some special customers and SCCM MVPs. The details are unknown to me since Microsoft doesn’t talk much about it. Only CB releases which are deemed good and stable enough are pushed out to the public, which happens once per 4 months in general.

Sometimes some these ‘in between’ CB releases are made available under TP, Technical Preview. Not meant for production (nor supported!!!), but meant for testing. At this moment SCCM 1704 is TP.

Why CB?
There are plenty reasons for the CB approach, like supporting the latest version of Windows 10 which also adheres to a CB based release cycle. So whenever new functionality is introduced with the latest release of Windows 10, the most current CB release of SCCM supports it 100%.

Another reason is that customer feedback is incorporated many times faster, compared to the old approach where – if lucky – once per 1.5 years an update was released. Now instead, just a few months later customer requests and feedback are incorporated directly into the latest CB release.

And yes, there is also another reason…

CB and the cloud: SCCM as SaaS!
Sure, with every latest CB release of SCCM, you’ll notice that SCCM is tied more and more into the cloud. This doesn’t end with deeper integration with Windows Intune but also with Azure in general. So step by step SCCM is growing into a Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud delivery model.

And the proof of it is already there. Because updating SCCM can be quite a challenge. Microsoft has addressed this issue quite good and with every CB release the upgrade process and experience is improved even further.

Since CB saw the light, SCCM can be upgraded quite easily, all powered by Azure. Sure as a SCCM admin you still have some work to do, but the upgrade process has become quite solid and safe. Just follow the guide lines setout by SCCM itself, and you’ll be okay in most cases. No more Russian roulette here!

How about support for CB releases?
Good question. Like I already stated CB releases adhere to a new support model as well. And those new support models don’t last years like we see for the rest of the System Center stack, but MONTHS! Which is quite understandable. Instead of Mainstream / Extended Support, SCCM CB adheres to two so called Servicing Phases:

  1. Security & Critical Updates Servicing Phase;
  2. Security Updates Servicing Phase.

The names of the servicing phases are quite self explanatory so no need to repeat it here I hope Smile. The first servicing phase is aimed at the most current CB release publicly available, and second servicing phase is aimed at the CB-1 release, being the previous CB release before the most current CB release. 

How it works? Let’s take a look at today’s situation. SCCM 1702 is the most current CB release. As such it adheres to the first servicing phase (Security & Critical Updates). Meaning, it’s fully supported by Microsoft. Security and critical updates will be released for it.

SCCM 1610 is the CB-1 release now. So this CB release adheres to the second servicing phase (Security Updates). So this CB release doesn’t have Microsoft’s full support. Instead it will only receive security updates and that’s it.

Suppose a new SCCM CB release becomes publicly available, let’s say SCCM 1706. Everything will move one rung down the servicing phase ladder:

  • SCCM 1706 will adhere to the first servicing phase (Security & Critical Updates);
  • SCCM 1702 will adhere to the second servicing phase (Security Updates);
  • SCCM 1610 won’t be supported anymore.

Sure, it forces companies to follow the CB flow as much as possible. But with every new CB release life is made easier because SCCM is growing into SaaS, making the upgrade easier every time.

!!!Spoiler alert!!! CB isn’t just a boiler plate
Please keep this in the back of your mind – at least for this series of blog postings – CB is way much more than just a new boiler plate!

As you can see with SCCM, CB encompasses not only a whole new support model (aka Servicing Phases) but also the development cycle is totally different. The way customer feedback is being processed, and decided upon whether or not to incorporate it into a future CB release or not. The way SCCM is being tied more and more into the cloud, growing to a SaaS delivery model. How SCCM is upgraded from one CB to another.

And so on. And yes, introducing and maintaining and growing the CB model costs money and resources. Which are available for SCCM without any doubt. As you’ll see in the future postings of this series however, this kind of funding and resources is kind of different for the other components of the System Center stack.

Verdict for SCCM and it’s future
Without a doubt, the future for SCCM is okay. For sure more and more SCCM will be tied into the cloud. But that’s not bad at all. Also with every CB release SCCM will grow even more into a SaaS delivery model, enabling you the administrator to focus on the FUNCTIONALITY of SCCM instead of working hard to keep it just running…

SCCM adheres for a full 100% Microsoft’s Mobile First – Cloud First strategy. And not just that, but also enables it by the functionality it offers. So whenever you’re working with SCCM, rest assured.

Many changes are ahead for it, but SCCM is in it for the long run, stepping away more and more from the System Center stack as a whole and as such, creating it’s own space within the Microsoft cloud port folio and service offerings.

SCCM is safe and sound and will give you full ROI for many years to come. Simply keep up with the CB pace and you’ll be just fine.

Coming up next
In the third posting of this series I’ll write the epitaph for Orchestrator - SCOrch  (I am sorry to bring the bad news but why lie about it?). See you all next time.

Friday, May 19, 2017

‘Mobile First–Cloud First’ Strategy – How About System Center – 01 – Kickoff

Advice to the reader
This posting is part of a series of articles. In order to get a full grasp of it, I strongly advise you to start at the beginning of it.

Other postings in the same series:
02 – SCCM
03 – SCOrch
04 – SCDPM
05 – SCSM
06 – SCVMM
07 – SCOM

In this new series of blog postings I’ll write about the effect of Microsoft’s ‘Mobile First – Cloud First’ strategy on the System Center stack.

This posting is the first of this series.

‘Put your money where your mouth is’
This phrase is most certainly at play when looking at Microsoft’s ‘new’ Mobile First – Cloud First strategy. And not just that, Microsoft has given the phrase ‘Put your money where your mouth is’ a whole new dimension of depth and breadth. Simply because their investments in the cloud (Azure, Office 365, Windows Intune and so on) and everything related, are unprecedented.

Azure regions are added on almost quarterly basis, while a single Azure region requires a multi billion dollar investment. Azure on itself is growing on a weekly basis. New services are added whereas existing ones are modified or extended.

It’s quite safe to say that Microsoft’s Mobile First – Cloud First strategy isn’t marketing mumbo jumbo, but the real deal. Microsoft is changing from a software vendor to a service delivery provider with a global reach. On top of it all Microsoft is also capable of delivering the cloud to goverments, adhering to specific laws and regulations.

The speed of alle these changes is enormous. Like an oil tanker turning into a speed boat while changing course and direction. As such one could say that Microsoft is rebuilding itself from the ground up. Nothing is left untouched, even the foundations are rebuild or removed when deemed unnecessary.

As a direct result many well known Microsoft products are revamped. Especially products which originally had a strong on-premise focus, like Windows Server. Now these same products are far more easier to integrate with Azure based services. As such these products are growing into a more hybrid model, enabling customers to reap the benefits of both worlds: on-premise and the (public) cloud.

How about System Center?
For sure, this massive reinvention of how Microsoft does business is affecting the System Center stack as well. Many components of the System Center stack date from the so called ‘pre-cloud era’, the days when the cloud was nothing but a buzz word. Most workloads and enterprise environments were located in on-premise datacenters. Not much if anything at all was running in any cloud, whether public or private.

Mind you, this is outside SCVMM of course.

The source code of many System Center stack components still reflect that outdated approach. So when Microsoft would think about turning the System Center stack into a more hybrid solution, much of that source code would require serious rewrites. Without huge investments this can’t be done.

Why this new series of blog postings:
So this brings us to the main question on which this series of postings is based: Where does System Center fit into the new ‘Mobile First – Cloud First’ strategy? At this moment the System Center stack looks to be isolated compared to other Microsoft based solutions.

In this series of blog postings I’ll take a look per System Center component and how it relates to the new Microsoft. Also I’ll write about available Azure based alternatives (if any). The last posting of this series will be about the System Center stack as a whole and whether it still deserves a place in the brave new world, powered by Azure.

I can tell you, many things are happening with the System Center stack. Most of them in plain sight but some of them hidden from your direct line of sight. Just like an iceberg…

So stay tuned. In following articles of this series I’ll show you where and how to look in order to see the whole iceberg…

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

MP Authoring – Quick & Dirty – 05 – Q&A

Advice to the reader
This posting is part of a series of articles. In order to get a full grasp of it, I strongly advise you to start at the beginning of it.

Other postings in the same series:
00 – Introduction
01 – Overview
02 – Authoring the Template MP XML Code
03 - Example Using The Template MP XML Code
04 - Testing The Example MP

In the last posting of this series I’ll do an Q&A in order to answer questions and respond to feedback I’ve got while working on this series. Whenever you’re missing your questions/feedback, don’t hesitate and reach out to me, whether directly or by comment to this post.

Q01: Is the ‘Quick & Dirty’ approach only doable for ONE Class and a ‘single’ layered application/service?
A01: No, you can add as many Classes as you require. However, there are some things to reckon with:

  1. When monitoring a multi-layered application the ‘Quick & Dirty’ approach may be a way to address it.
  2. However, when there are more than 3 layers, it’s better to look for alternatives.
  3. When adding a new Class to the MP, don’t forget to add the Reverse Discovery and Group as well. The Group is required as the target for enabling the Discovery (which is disabled by default, hence REVERSE DiscoverySmile)


Q02: I see what you’re trying to achieve. None the less, I rather prefer to target my Discoveries at registry keys which are more specific to the application/service I author my MP for. Why use your method instead?
A02: For many IT shops authoring MPs is quite a challenge. Whether based on their current workload, available time, budget, resources and knowledge.

For environments like those custom MP authoring isn’t a fun thing at all. None the less, sometimes they have to deliver custom MPs of their own.

In situations like these many challenges of MP authoring need to be addressed. In my line of work I notice that many times buggy MPs are delivered, resulting in a bad SCOM experience. Many times the bugs in the MPs are based on badly designed Discoveries and poorly defined Classes.

By introducing a template for their MP XML code containing a predefined Class with a REVERSE Discovery these two main challenges are properly addressed. On top of it all, it enables IT shops to deliver quickly a custom monitoring solution with proper Classes, Discoveries and monitoring. And it’s far more easier to learn them this approach instead of taking the deep dive into the world of MP Authoring.

Sure, it’s always better to work with registry based Discoveries targeted at registry keys unique to the workload to be monitored. But for IT shops like that it’s better all together to stay away from the ‘Quick & Dirty’ approach.


Q03: Do I need to pay for Silect MP Studio in order to use your ‘Quick & Dirty’ approach?
A03: No you don’t. However, there is a small caveat to it. As long as your custom MP can cover the requirements with basic Monitors and Rules, the free version of MP Author will suffice. The FREE version of MP Author allows you to build these Monitors and Rules:

  1. Windows Database Monitor;
  2. Windows Event Monitor;
  3. Windows Performance Monitor;
  4. Windows Script Monitor;
  5. Windows Service Monitor;
  6. Windows Website Monitor;
  7. Windows Event/Alert Rule;
  8. Windows Performance Rule;
  9. Windows Script Performance Rule.

As you can see, an impressive list. The paid version (MP Author Professional) offers on top of the previous list these additional Monitors and Rules:

  1. Windows Process Monitor;
  2. SNMP Probe/Trap Monitor;
  3. Dependency Rollup Monitor;
  4. Aggregate Rollup Monitor;
  5. SNMP Probe Event Rule;
  6. SNMP Probe Performance Rule;
  7. SNMP Trap Event/Alert Rule.

So when requiring SNMP monitoring, you have to buy the Professional version.


Q04: I rather stick to the MP authoring tool released for SCOM 2007x. It’s still available and FREE as well. And it allows me to build any Monitor/Rule I need. Why change?
A04: With the introduction of SCOM 2012x, the MP Schema is changed as well. For multiple reasons, among them the extended monitoring capabilities of SCOM 2012x and later SCOM 2016.

In the MP authoring tools for SCOM 2007x, the new MP Schema isn’t supported. Nor are the new SCOM 2012x/2016 monitoring features. Sure, any SCOM 2007x MP using the old XML Schema will be converted to the new one. However, the SCOM 2007x MP Authoring tool can’t work with it.

As such, your MP development will suffer, sooner or later when using this outdated tool. Also has this tool a steep learning curve. In cases like this it’s better to master MP Author and move on to the paid version when required, or (when the proper licenses are in place) to move to VSAE.


Q05: I find it much of a coincidence that you post a whole series of MP Authoring using Silect MP Author and that a new  version of it is launched soon after that. And now you’re also presenting at MP University 2017!
A05: I wish I am part of such a scheme. Would make me earn loads of more money (duh!) Smile. But let’s put the joke behind us and give a serious answer.

At the moment I started to write this series I had no connections what so ever with Silect. None. So having them bringing out a new version of MP Author is pure coincidence. And also a pain because I had to screenshot many steps all over again…

None the less, because of this series of postings I got on the radar of Silect. As such they asked me whether I wanted to present a session at their MP University event. That’s all there is to it. Nothing more, nothing less.

And no, I have nothing to do with chemtrails, or other conspiracy theories. How much I would love to, I simply don’t have the time for it SmileSmileSmile 


Q06: Do you recommend VSAE over MP Author or vice versa?
A06: There is no one size fits all when it comes down to MP Authoring. Sure with MP Fragments VSAE enables you to author MPs in a very fast manner. But your company requires licenses for VS. When not in place, don’t use VSAE in a commercial setting since you’re in breach of the license agreement.

On top of it all, MP Author is very accessible tooling for non-developers. And with the latest update, MP Author Professional supports the usage of MP fragments as well!

Therefore, the choice is yours, based on your liking, background, requirements and available budget.

MP University 2017 - Agenda

As stated before, tomorrow on the 3rd of May Silect hosts their annual online SCOM Management Pack event, titled MP University 2017.

This online event is FREE and – when working with SCOM and OMS – worth attending. Simply because this event has a very impressive line up and agenda(*):

09:00 - 09:15 Introductions and Kick off
09:15 – 10:00 Silect: Management Pack basics, MP Author
10:00 – 11:30 Kevin Holman: VSAE, fragments, MP dev Q&A
12:15 – 13:00 Silect: fragment authoring and sharing using MP Author Pro / MP Studio
13:00 - 14:00 Brian Wren: OMS and Solution Packs
14:00 - 15:00 Marnix Wolf: MP Authoring "Quick and Dirty"
15:00 - 16:00 Bhaskar Swarna / Microsoft: SCOM 2016

(*: Time is set in EDT time, so depending on where you reside, the actual time may differ.)

For me Brian and Kevin are two BIG names in the SCOM/OMS world. And not just that, they know how to share their knowledge and experience. So I am honored to be part of this event and to present a session of my own.

I’ve been told the sessions will be recorded and made available. However, when attending this event in person there will be enough time for some good Q & A. So my advise is to attend this FREE online event as much as you can.

Presenting At MP University

Wh00t! I’ve got the honor to present at MP University 2017 the FREE 1 day event on Management Pack Authoring, SCOM 2016 and Microsoft OMS!

This event is organized by Silect and Microsoft and has an awesome lineup of experts, like Brian Wren and Kevin Holman! For me these two people have tons of knowledge of hard core MP Authoring (among other knowledge). So I am honored to be part of this lineup.

My session will be about MP Authoring – Quick & Dirty, the same topic I am already blogging about (last posting of this series is in the make).

The MP University 2017 event will be on the 3rd of May, 9AM to 4PM EDT (Amsterdam time: 3PM to 10PM). You need to register in order to attend. Again, this is a FREE event, packed with tons of rock solid information.

So whenever you’re working with SCOM, MP Authoring and/or OMS, this event is a MUST go!

Community MP: SCOM Agent Management Properties & Tasks

Some time ago Kevin Holman authored a MP as an example what SCOM can do for you. The funny thing is, I’ve put this MP on my list of community MPs which are a MUST have for any SCOM environment, just like the SCOM Health Reports and Tao’s OpsMgr 2012 Self Maintenance MP.

What Kevin’s MP does? Good question! The answer is easy: It simplifies the administration of your SCOM Agents in many ways. It does this by adding useful properties of the SCOM Agent and by adding useful tasks.

Properties added to the SCOM Agent and as such shown in the Console(*):

  1. The “real” agent version;
  2. The UR level of the agent;
  3. Any Management Groups that the agent belongs to;
  4. A check if PowerShell is installed and what version;
  5. OS Version and Name;
  6. Primary and Failover management servers;
  7. The default Agent Action account.

Tasks added to the SCOM Agent (or Console)(*):

  1. Computer Management;
  2. Create Test Event;
  3. Execute any PowerShell;
  4. Execute any Service Restart;
  5. Execute any Software from Share;
  6. Export Event Log;
  7. HealthService – Flush;
  8. HealthService – Restart;
  9. Management Group – ADD and Management Group – REMOVE;
  10. Ping – (Console Task);
  11. Remote Desktop – (Console Task).

(*: For descriptions what a certain property means or task precisely does, please visit this webpage on TechNet Gallery.)

As you can see, this is an IMPRESSIVE list with properties and tasks which should have been there by default. None the less, this FREE MP adds them, empowering you to run SCOM even more smoother.

Go here to download the MP for FREE and read about the MP in more detail.