MOM Revisited: "Extensible Platform" or Bloatware?

by Jacqueline Emigh

While one person's 'extensibility' is another's 'bloat,' Microsoft and partners are taking steps to pare down the complexity behind MOM as they search for advantage in a tough market.

Some administrators like MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager) just fine, while others are attacking Microsoft's latest management platform as bloated. Microsoft and partner NetIQ both seem to be taking some heed. In coming months, NetIQ plans to release improved editions of its current MOM XMPs (extended management packs). Meanwhile, Microsoft's been prodding its.NET teams to work with the MOM unit on future versions of the Microsoft MP (management pack) for MOM.

"Microsoft is designing MOM as a platform upon which not just Microsoft, but other vendors, can build," maintained Mark Jones, a product manager in NetIQ's Performance and Availability Unit. "It's meant to be extensible to other management packs."

"Microsoft is asking MMA (Microsoft Management Alliance) members for products that add to Microsoft's base architecture and that support key nonMicrosoft environments, like Oracle and Unix ," according to Cameron Haight, co-author of a recent Gartner report on MOM.

Available since last September of 2001, MOM comes with over 6,000 built-in rules. Optionally available management packs from Microsoft, NetIQ, and other vendors add thousands of more rules. Rules for the various applications and .NET servers are still in varying stages of development, though.

Disgruntled User: "MOM is bloatware, full stop."
As some observers see it, however, all these rules - and the accompanying scripts - are bogging down the works. "MOM is bloatware full stop," wrote one user in the MomAnswers Forum. "Lucky if you can get 100 servers monitored from a single repository."

Acccording the same commenter, some administrators say they'd rather write their own rules. "Basically, if you spend about a week, you can save yourself $50,000. An XMP is not much else than scripts and processing rule groups. Make them yourself," he continued

"In any case, the (NetIQ) XMP I tested, for Windows NT 4.0, was bloatware. And when you unistall it, it (leaves) behind a ton of junk including the processing rule groups and scripts which get kicked to the client. Not good. Luckily, it was just a test, and I'm not monitoring NT 4.0. Glad I don't need that headache," he complained.

Microsoft warns users, "Be cautious"

Microsoft officials are clearly aware of the potential for over-complex MOM installations. "One thing you need to be cautious of is that when you're installing MOM, you may not want to install the entire base management pack when you first implement MOM because of the fact that there are 6,000 event processing rules there," warned Wally Mead of Microsoft Support, during a recent Webcast.

"You may have computers that are going to be hitting the vast majority of computer groups (in other words, getting the vast majority of those rules). Do you really want to push all of those rules down to agents when you're first installing MOM? Generally, we recommend you install MOM and then install only the bare minimum processing rules groups that you need to have installed," Mead added.

"From the base management pack, pick and choose. 'Yes, I want the Windows 2000 operating system and Windows 2000 Active Directory, but I don't want to install the [other rule groups] or the management packs,'" he advised. "That way, you can start slowly with MOM, see what kind of data MOM is going to generate for you, get your first management pack tuned the way you want it - turn off processing rules that you don't want, turn off the alert rules or whatever you don't want."

Write your own
"So you install the management packs one at a time, tune them the way you want so they provide the appropriate information for you, and then go ahead and install another management pack. Otherwise, if you don't you may get flooded with event information coming down through MOM by deploying all 6,000 rules at one time."

Mead said that administrators can either use the built-in scripts, customize those scripts, or write their own scripts. Built-in scripts include "restart a server, do an HTTP ping, and ehck connectivity of a server," for instance. MOM supports VBScript, Jscript, and SQL Script.

You can also use MOM's processing rule responses to automate your existing scripts. "Right now a lot of you, as administrators, already have batch files or custom scripts that you run when you detect some condition when you monitor the event log. So you're running the NT event log and you see some specific event appear and you say, 'Okay, that means I have to run this script,'" he said.

"Processing rule responses, all they do is allow you to configure MOM to have MOM automate the response for you. When MOM detects that condition occurring by looking at the event log, then MOM can automate the response of running the script for you or e-mailing somebody or running some sort of a command-line program."

2 Do rules save time?

Others, though, think of the pre-configured rules as timesavers. "The value MOM adds is that, for users who don't want to write their own rules, the product is completely out-of-the-box," maintained NetIQ's Jones.

"NetIQ's NT XMP is just fine. Why uninstall it? Here's my point. We have a large implementation of NT 4 and are going to have to monitor a large 2k environment. I suggest we (go to) MOM. AppManager is fine, but the newer version that rats you out if you go over licensing is just as bad as XP mandatory registrations," according to another systems administrator.

Microsoft's MOM is based on code licensed by Microsoft for NetIQ's previous Operations Manager (OM) product. NetIQ, though, continues to sell Applications Manager, a similar product that supports both Windows 2000 and NT servers. Microsoft is also allowing NetIQ to support NT users of MOM with an NT XMP.

Some claim that Microsoft hasn't had much time to finetune MOM yet. "Microsoft's just licensed the product from NetIQ. Microsoft is definitely going to get this one right, because it wants to become the dominant player is the enterprise management space," noted Brent J. Rhymes, VP of the iWave Division for integration software vendor Neon Systems.

More modularity ?
Third-party partners tend to suggest that MOM is already on the road to greater modularity in terms of management functions. For one thing, rules specific to particular applications are embodied in an ever growing group of management packs.

Version 1.0 of Microsoft's Application Management Pack, currently shipping, includes modules for Exchange 5.5 and 2000; SQL Server 7.0 and 2000; Commerce Server 2000; Internet Security and Accleration Server 2000; Host Integration Server 2000; Application Center 2000; Site Server 3.0; Proxy Server 2.0; and SNA Server 4.0.

Version 2.0, due out over the next few months, is expected to add cluster support, among other capabilities.

Shortly after MOM shipped last fall, NetIQ started to release its own application-specific XMPs, for products such as Oracle and Lotus Domino, along with connectors to outside management platforms like Micromuse, IBM Tivoli, and HP's VantagePoint Operations and Network Node Manager.

"We also provide XMPs for some of the .NET servers, such as SQL Server and Exchange," Jones acknowledged. NetIQ's .NET XMPs, though, contain different rules than Microsoft's MP.

"Our XMPs for .NET servers are analysis-related. There's only about onetenth of one percent overlap (with Microsoft's MP)," according to Jones. In addition, the NetIQ XMPs add graphical capabilities that include "rich 3D charts" and a dashboard view for combining multiple charts.

"You might want to look at the 'top five SQL databases' in terms of least amount of space available," he illustrated.

Jones, by the way, thinks many administrators wouldn't be able to write some of the rules in NetIQ's XMPs. "Some of our capabilities - such as active analytics, data visualization, and setting up report schedules - are totally unique. It'd be very difficult to write rules for them unless you had advanced programming skills."

Compaq, NeonSystems also on board

NetIQ has collaborated with HP/Compaq on an XMP for Compaq Insight Manager. Compaq is selling Insight Manager XMP as a separate product. NetIQ, on the other hand, has bundled the Insight Manager XMP into its multiplatform Hardware XMP product.

NeonSystems' Rhymes perceives a further degree of componentization in the emerging MOM family. "Microsoft provides the monitoring and management. NetIQ offers analytics. Companies like ours supply communication among management platforms," according to Rhymes..

iWave Integrator is a set of adapters for help desk, systems management, asset management, and database administration systems. The new iWave Integrator for MOM adds MOM connectivity. Rhymes suggests that, in some ways, Microsoft is actually trying to avoid adding more bulk.

A trimmer MOM?
"The iWave Integrator for MOM is an aftermarket product. Why are we producing it? Because several of Microsoft's enterprise customers wanted to be able to integrate help desk management with systems management and asset management, for instance. We apply a rule set. If an event meets certain criteria, iWave will automatically open up a trouble ticket, and keep track of problem history."

Instead, Microsoft could have decided to include interfaces to help desk products directly inside MOM. "Management products that do this, though, usually include options to only one or two. They'll come up with a Remedy connector, and maybe a Peregrine connector. There are well over 50 help desk products out there, though. The help desk market is highly fragmented."

NeonSystems currently has three more modules for iWave under development, including an interface to Microsoft's SMS, according to Rhymes.

Beyond streamlining MOM, observers point to a couple of major drivers behind breaking down Microsoft management products into more applicationspecific chunks. "One driver is the increased trend toward outsourcing," according to Rhymes. Enterprises want to be able to monitor inhouse, while outsourcing administration and analysis, Rhymes theorized.

Another frequently mentioned factor is use of some of the .NET servers, such as BizTalk, by business folks. "For BizTalk to make sense for business managers, you'll want to have someone (with technical skills) administering it," he said

"People keep talking about delegating some management tasks to end users. Systems administrators, though, aren't always able to do that," concurred Jim Murphy, an analyst at AMR Research.

Don't rule it out
Meanwhile, Microsoft has been urging the .NET product teams to help the MOM unit with future product development. "The MOM product group is working with the application groups themselves, that is, the App Center group and the SQL groups and so on," said Mead.

"We're kind of doing a joint effort. We're trying to drive them to have them generate their own management packs because, obviously, they know the application. They know what things to look for, they know what the appropriate performance data should be, they know what is a good condition, a bad condition, and so on."

"That continuing to happen," Jones corroborated. Microsoft's Active Directory and Exchange teams have been among the first to chime in, according to the NetIQ product manager.

BizTalk 2002, released last summer, includes 900 new events for management via MOM," said Dave Wascha, Microsoft's BizTalk product manager. "We've done the work in BizTalk to expose these events." BizTalk 2000, in contrast, offered less than 100 manageable events

Meanwhile, for its part, NetIQ plans to release updates to some of its XMPs over the next few months. "We'll also be adding XMPs for additional products," according to Jones.

Jones, however, doesn't expect Microsoft's MOM to start managing NT servers at any point in the forseeable future.

"NetIQ is still planning to be the main source for the NT part of the business. That's part of our deal with Microsoft," Jones observed.

Will future management packs for MOM really lead to easier implementation? Don't count on it - but don't rule it out, either.

» See All Articles by Columnist Jacqueline Emigh

This article was originally published on Monday Sep 23rd 2002