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Microsoft SCOM

Microsoft SCOM 2007

While Microsoft SCOM 2007 is not widely deployed as a cross-platform monitoring tool in the larger data centers, it is the leader in the Windows monitoring arena for many user scenarios.

SCOM's architecture is very heavy, requiring agents on each server and multiple Management Servers for best performance.  A contributing factor to the heaviness is its use of .Net technology for every component--i.e., management servers, consoles and agents.  That said, scalability and reliability have improved significantly with the release of R2 in 2009.

SCOM enjoys a wide technology partner community, providing it with more bells and whistles than any but the largest IT departments will find occasion to use.  Two great add-ons are Savision and Silect Software.

Pre-defined monitoring rules are packaged in secure Management Packs (MPs) which users can customize or create from scratch.  A wide variety of programming languages are supported for embedding in a monitoring rule, not the least of which is PowerShell.

SCOM's built-in Knowledge Base capability enables administrators to add event descriptions targeted at the NOC first level operators, which facilitates training and ITSM integration efforts.  Not the least of SCOM's strengths is certainly its extensive reporting capabilities.  The built-in library of application health and incident reports is easy to use and, if desired, publish through Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SRS).

Market Position

From its release in 2000 through 2007, MOM, the precursor to SCOM, provided painful experiences for many users who chose SCOM more on account of its marketing hype than on actual value in practice.  This started to change dramatically in 2007 with SCOM 2007, as there were finally more compelling features than bugs and limitations.  SP1 was introduced in 2008, and it was widely acknowledged that SCOM was a great monitoring tool for many types of users--see comment above regarding cross-platform adoption.  With the planned introduction in 2010 of a Service Desk companion product, SCOM will gain even wider appeal in the medium size business segment.  One assumes that some of this business will be moved from the top tier vendors HP, BMC, CA and IBM.

Pricing Model

SCOM is priced per server and application, and there is an annual maintenance fee.  You can purchase licenses from third-party resellers, but most SCOM users already have a licensing agreement in place.

Competitive Advantages

Windows Platform:  It is challenging for third party monitoring vendors to keep up with the unending release cycle of Windows servers and applications.  There is a compelling argument that Microsoft, as the purveyor of those servers and applications, knows best how to monitor them.  Combined with a coherent ITSM vision (see "Kirill Tatarinov" below) and the improving SCOM competence, this argument shows no sign of losing momentum.

Monitoring Dimensions:  In addition to the usual availability tests and performance metrics that all monitoring tools provide, SCOM adds a Health model that takes into account the additional dimensions of configuration/design integrity.  This applies both to individual components and to distributed applications.  Few products provide this level of overall status.

Reports:  SCOM, as well as other products in the System Center suite, provides built-in reports that are easy to configure and quite useful. Storing report data in a separate warehouse database enables a powerful drill-down capability that other products can only provide with expensive add-ons. As mentioned above, SCOM reporting leverages SQL Server Reporting Services for publlishing and scheduling reports.

Kirill Tatarinov: Under Tatarinov's visionary leadership since he joined Microsoft in 2002, the System Center division has leap-frogged other vendors in crafting a cohesive message that unites Microsoft's internal product managers with their external customers and third party vendors. The vision is well designed systems that are well managed and optimized for change and growth.

Practical Limitations

Windows Platform:  The flip side of its strenghts in monitoring the Windows platform are the natrual biases administrators of other platforms may bear against SCOM.  There is always some friction between platforms, and in translating between SCOM and Linux or Oracle that friction becomes a serious matter very quickly.

Agent Overhead:  The SCOM agent is fairly easy to deploy from the console, but it is one of the heavier agents in operation.  Troubleshooting the agent has always been cumbersome, as it is a very full application with many moving parts but limited transparency in terms of logging.  Larger customers will need to account for this cost in their design desicsions.

Product Direction

Service Desk is the most anticipated next product in System Center.  It promises a more predictable and auditable communications layer for change control and user interaction.  It also promotes greater operations efficiency.

Food for Thought

The best tools don't guarantee successful ITSM, and SCOM is no exception.  IT departments need to consider their business objectives as much for monitoring as for other applications.  Mapping these objectives onto a SCOM deployment can be a long process because of the sheer quantity of rules that are provided in the vendors' MPs.