Late Night with System Center Management

latenight139248083It’s 3:30 a.m. and your trusty mobile phone on your nightstand buzzes a hideous, nasty, telltale racket. You pick up the smartphone and squint in the darkness at the glowing message that informs you that one of the e-mail servers at work is down. As you’re about to dismiss the nasty-gram in your still-half-asleep daze (who would need e-mail at 3:30 in the morning?), you bolt up wide-eyed! You suddenly realize the server that’s down serves critical e-mail services for a team three time zones east of you. And, at 6:30 a.m. their time, a downed server spells near-immediate and definitely impending doom as the workforce at that facility is about to start their shift.

A few years ago, with car keys in hand, you would have been racing for the door to get to work. Last year, you might have fired up the laptop or tablet, gotten on the VPN, and performed a bit of remote management magic to try to remedy the situation. But now, you read the choices presented on your phone: Restore Server, Switch to DR Site, Restart Server. You make your selection, receive near-instant confirmation and a new health update, and begin fantasizing about starring in yet another Walter Mitty-esque “Masters of System Center 2012” episode as you drift back into dreamland.

A student in one of my Microsoft System Center 2012 Private Cloud courses recently asked about the ability to receive notifications regarding system health on his smartphone. It started off as a question that dozens of others have asked. One easily answered and easily handled by System Center 2012’s Operations Manager. However, this person pointed out that he also wanted to go beyond merely receiving a notification of the alert. He wanted to initiate a change from his phone that would either simply acknowledge the alert or initiate corrective actions. One of the goals was to be able to clear an alert on his phone and have both System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) close the alert and System Center Service Manager (SCSM) resolve the related incident. Having SCOM and SCSM work together to couple actions on alerts and incidents is a feature supported on the connectors in System Center 2012. The system management magic is getting the mobile phone involved as desired.

Of course, I mentioned that Windows PowerShell or System Center Orchestrator could be used to help accomplish this, but then a discussion started around using third-party tools to provide this sort of automation as another approach. After a bit of research, I provided them with the link to an April 2012 article by Peter Stevens, “Enterprise Alert and System Center 2012,” that describes such a product called Enterprise Alert 2012 from Derdack of Berlin, Germany.

In the article, Stevens includes a description of the add-on product to System Center. While you could write your own System Center 2012 Orchestrator runbooks and PowerShell scripts and configure the appropriate notification channels in SCOM and SCSM to accomplish much of what this product does, this product delivers an off-the-shelf foundation enabling you to focus on how you want to manage your systems rather than having to create the magic glue and integration between Orchestrator and other key System Center components.

But as pointed out in the YouTube video that Stevens included in his article, one of the best features of this product is its Enterprise Alert Integration Pack for System Center 2012 Orchestrator. Some of the activities included in the integration pack are:

  • E-Mail Notification
  • Flag for Mobile Execution
  • Instant Message Notification (Lync)
  • Multi-Channel Notification
  • Smartphone Push Notification
  • SMS Text Notification
  • Voice Call Notification

Of these different Orchestrator activities, the most exciting is Flag for Mobile Execution. When you add that activity into a runbook, without even connecting it with links to other activities (it can just sit next to the Initialize Data activity if you want), the runbook becomes registered as available to mobile devices in response to a notification! I suggest watching the demonstration video to see how easy avoiding a late-night drive to work could be. Of course, Orchestrator can accomplish other magic on its own, but for remote smartphone management, this is an immensely powerful toolkit.

How much would your organization be willing to spend for this sort of functionality? According to the Derdack site, a license to their Enterprise Alert® System Center Edition retails for US $7,995. Each Alert User Client Access License runs US $399 at the time of this writing. Note also that they offer an Open API Edition, also for $7,995, that allows systems, including but not limited to Nagios, Solarwinds, CA, and BMC, to leverage off their notification and action infrastructure. Enterprise Alert makes this kind of notify-and-respond functionality available on smartphones such as iPhone, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and Android. The integration with System Center 2012 Orchestrator, Operations Manager, and Service Manager affords auditing, integration with other processes, and extensibility. This technology can be utilized in private cloud deployments and any other environments that use System Center 2012.

They say that a good night’s sleep is priceless, but with Enterprise Alert there may be a nominal price! What other suggestions do you have for providing such System Center 2012 remote management functionality? I’m sure there are other solutions out there, and I’d love to hear from you.

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