Most of us have heard the question “If you were stuck on a desert island, what one thing would you bring with you?” The answer supposedly helps you to clarify your values. But for a person who lives and breathes Microsoft System Center Operations Manager, a better question would be, “If you were stuck on an island and had to monitor the island’s servers without Internet connectivity, what extensions would you bring with you?”

Before you laugh at the concept, it wasn’t too long ago that I worked at an organization that had remote island sites connected via satellite links at speeds where you could actually watch the network traffic—in real time. This exercise made me think about what extensions are most important for OpsMgr and why.

Consolidating Information to Resolve Issues
OpsMgr helps you to consolidate relevant information from throughout your environment to proactively identify issues and more quickly resolve them. And it provides additional capabilities such as identifying trends of usage on systems, capturing client application crash information, and consolidating security log information.

To me, OpsMgr's function comes down to three key concepts: Tell me what’s going on in my environment, find critical issues as early as possible, and give me guidance to fix them more quickly. 

Extending OpsMgr's Reach
An OpsMgr extension is anything that's not already part of OpsMgr that provides additional functionality to the product. Examples of extensions include management packs, scripts, and utilities. Each of these has one thing in common: They build on OpsMgr's foundation to extend its capabilities into new areas. You can see a list at the SystemCenterForum.

Because there are so many extensions available, to save you time and effort I've put together a list of my top five. I've chosen them based upon my experiences with the product as a Microsoft MVP and user of OpsMgr since Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2000. The extensions I seriously considered but didn't put in the top five still deserve recognition and are listed in Sidebar 1, “OpsMgr Extensions: Honorable Mention List.”

#5: Alert Forward Management Pack
OpsMgr provides a robust method of notification when an issue has been identified in an environment. Depending on the notification channels defined, it can send notifications via email, instant messaging (IM), short message service (SMS), or the command line. Recipients can define which notification channel(s) to use and when they are used. A subscription defines which alerts a recipient receives based upon the groups, classes, or alert criteria defined.

As an example, OpsMgr can notify database administrators if SQL Server is down. This notification could be provided during the day via email and off-hours via an SMS message. In most cases, subscriptions offer an effective way to provide notification of alerts that occur in OpsMgr. However, what often happens is that alerts are received which need to be sent to a specific person or group of people who don't have a subscription, particularly during initial OpsMgr tuning phases. (Tuning is done after installation to resolve issues or provide overrides to customize OpsMgr to meet the environment’s requirements.)

As part of most tuning phases, notifications are turned off to avoid an overload of alerts to technical personnel while the product is being tuned to the environment. This is where the Alert Forward management pack is useful. This management pack provides an action (circled in Figure 1) which forwards the alert information (the object name, description, time alert was raised, and the alert severity) to the person that you choose.

Figure 1: Sample alert in Alert Forward management pack. Click to expand.



If the system running your OpsMgr console also has Microsoft Outlook installed, the Alert Forward management pack uses the Outlook client to send this email, which means you can also choose the recipients from the global address list (GAL) or contacts, and edit the subject and body of the email. In the example in Figure 1, this alert could be forwarded to a distribution list or to specific database administrators in the organization.

The Alert Forward management pack is one of those features that simplifies the process of tuning alerts in Operations Manager 2007 by providing a quick and easy way to route alerts to technical subject matter experts. The management pack is free for download from http://www.systemcenterusergroup.com/files/folders/contest/entry131.aspx.

#4: Scheduled Maintenance Management Pack
In the OpsMgr console, you can highlight servers you want set in maintenance mode so that alerts sent from the server are turned off during the period that the system is under maintenance. This works well for unscheduled maintenance or for non-recurring scheduled maintenance.

However, for organizations that have a scheduled period of time for server maintenance, a preferable approach is to schedule the timeframe for the server or servers and have them automatically put into and removed from maintenance mode. The Scheduled Maintenance Mode management pack can help to address this requirement.

The Scheduled Maintenance Mode management pack provides a set of 10 rules which are disabled when the management pack is imported. You can find the rules in the Operations console: Go to the Authoring View, Management Pack Objects, Rules, and change the scope to Command Shell Proxy.

You activate the rules through the use of overrides. Overrides specify what days of the week the system should be put into maintenance mode and the time that maintenance mode should start. Additional overrides exist to specify how long the group remains in maintenance mode, the group name, a description of the maintenance mode period and whether to include hosted objects.

The management pack is free for download at the TechNet Blogs site. You can find additional information on the management pack and how to use it at the System Center Forum. Internals on the management pack are available at Brian Wren's TechNet blog.

#3: Override Explorer Management Pack
Within OpsMgr, tuning is done through the use of overrides. An override states that the default configuration needs to be changed based upon the specific requirements for your environment. Overrides can be used to alter thresholds, disable rules, and enable rules.

The Default management pack is the default location for any overrides that are created; this management pack also stores any rules that are disabled. The problem with using the Default management pack occurs when you attempt to delete a management pack in your environment.

For example, if you used the Default management pack for overrides that you created to customize your Microsoft Exchange 2003 environment, when you attempt to delete the Exchange 2003 management pack because you just finished your migration to Exchange 2007, you can't do so because you first need to delete the Default management pack that contains overrides from other management packs in your environment.

To avoid this situation, the best practice for using overrides in OpsMgr is to store them in a custom management pack specific to the rules that you're tuning, instead of using the Default management pack. For example, for the Exchange 2007 management pack, you could create an Exchange 2007 Overrides management pack to store the overrides created.

Using an overrides management pack avoids issues that can occur when all overrides are stored in the Default management pack. Override Explorer provides a UI that makes it easy to locate any overrides created in your Operations Manager environment so you can quickly track any overrides that were created during a tuning phase or identify what alerts have been defined for a system in your OpsMgr environment.

It can display overrides in the OpsMgr environment by type (rules, monitors) or by computer (with the ability to drill down and see what overrides apply to the OS, databases, and websites). Figure 2 shows overrides based upon type (where the alert was defined—in this case as part of the Logical Disk Free Space monitor).

Figure 2: Override alert in Override Explorer management pack. Click to expand.

Override Explorer 3.3 is free for download from Boris Yanushpolsky’s MSDN blog.

#2: ReSearch This! Management Pack
One of OpsMgr's key benefits is its ability to help you quickly resolve issues identified in your environment by using product knowledge. Management packs include product knowledge, which can help you resolve alerts that are identified. But what if there is no current product knowledge to help you resolve an alert?

Here’s where this management pack comes in: ReSearch This! is a community-driven management pack, which provides a community repository for alerts that have been identified and resolved by other OpsMgr administrators. These resolutions are created either for alerts that currently display no product knowledge on how to resolve them or to provide supplemental information on how to resolve the alerts.

After an alert is highlighted, this management pack adds two tasks to the OpsMgr console in the alerts view under the Alert Tasks section: ReSearch This! and Share This!

The ReSearch This! task does a lookup based upon the alert and searches the community repository for resolutions that match the alert name. Figure 3 shows an example of search results for an alert which was highlighted in the console (agent proxying needs to be enabled for a health service to submit discovery data about other computers).

Figure 3: Search results in Research This! management pack. Click to expand.



The Share This! links to a website that provides a way to share the resolutions you've discovered for alerts in your environment. Alert resolutions are then reviewed by OpsMgr personnel so that they're verified prior to making them available to the community. The management pack is free for download from System Center Forum ReSearch This! for OpsMgr or ReSearch This! for MOM 2005.

#1: Live Maps Management Pack
OpsMgr provides the ability to determine the health of servers and distributed applications. The state view of these is available both through the diagram view, which shows the health of an entity, and the Health Explorer applications in OpsMgr, which shows the health of various components and can be used to identify what's causing an entity's state.

Savision Live Maps extends OpsMgr’s ability to show the health of the environment being monitored. Live Maps offers a graphical representation of your OpsMgr environment and helps you easily locate locations and causes of issues in the environment.

For example, for an environment consisting of data centers located in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles, you could map the locations of the data centers, zoom into the data center floor plan, then zoom in deeper to a rack diagram to identify the specific server in the rack which has the issue. Figure 4 shows these various maps. Live Maps can also focus on the health of a distributed application or a service across an enterprise and you can expand it to view the health of subcomponents. To learn more about Live Maps v3 pricing and features or to download the free version which includes three maps see the Savision website

Seeing a Need, Creating a Solution
These five OpsMgr extensions show the range of OpsMgr functionality that can be used as a foundation to build into new areas. The extensions in this article range from professionally-created to community-created management packs. The people who have written community-created management packs saw a need and filled it with their solutions.

Next time you want to do something in OpsMgr and can’t find an existing way to make it happen, perhaps you could create your own solution and share it with the community. Who knows, maybe your new extension will bump one of these Top Five extensions off of the list.

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