I've worked with many reporting and monitoring tools over the course of my 15 years in this industry, and it's rare that I've had a positive experience. Overly complicated, set-it-but-never-forget-it solutions have kept me at a console for more hours than I can count. Microsoft System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) is no exception. I'm not complaining about the power of these solutions, but I do object to the need to have a PhD to install and work with them.
In this regard, ENow's Mailscape is a breath of fresh air. This product offers simplified reporting and monitoring on the front end and powerful features to tap in to on the back end.
Typically, I prefer to install a product myself; but the folks at ENow offer a free guided installation service. So I slipped into consumer mode and asked them to do so for me—with one twist: I'd be watching the process happen so that I could fairly rate it.
As it turns out, the installation was easy and went smoothly. It took less than 30 minutes to get the program running on several Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 servers. The Mailscape setup consists of a website installed on a Microsoft IIS server, an agent on the monitored server, and a connection to a Microsoft SQL Server database if you want the report customization. Mailscape supports Microsoft SQL Express and Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and later versions. You can monitor Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 through Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and servers that run on Windows 2003 or later versions. Communication between the monitored servers and the web server can be configured on any port.
In my case, the agent was manually installed on several systems. However, ENow recently added the ability to automatically push the client out to servers. Installing the client took only one minute and didn't require a reboot. A nice feature is that Mailscape monitors its own performance in addition to the performance of the servers.
It takes only a glance at the Mailscape Monitoring Dashboard to get a sense of why this is my favorite program feature: it's simple and colorful, with red, yellow, and green indicator lights that mimic a Star Trek (original series) console, as Figure 1 shows. The moment a problem occurs, you receive a visual alert. An easy way to test the monitoring features is to stop some mail-oriented services and watch the red lights start blinking.
Figure 1: Mailscape's colorful Space Age dashboard
Mailscape keeps an eye on nearly everything that you would expect a solid monitoring product to track. And while I would like to see it also report on additional server types, such as Office Communications Server/Lync and SharePoint, I'm told that this functionality is coming later this year. Still, I was quite pleased with the level of detail in the Exchange and Active Directory (AD) areas. For example, the display for Exchange 2010 servers shows whether your Client Access servers and database availability group (DAG) servers are functioning and configured correctly.
Although Mailscape can monitor some low-level Exchange components, I did not find the product overly complicated. The dashboard lets you drill down into an area for more details. For less experienced administrators, the program includes a built-in knowledge base that helps you troubleshoot problems.
I found the Mailscape reporting capabilities very robust. Out-of-the-box, the product provides more than 200 reports. You can also create custom reports based on existing content or from scratch. In fact, Mailscape's report wizard lets you customize a report based on almost anything in AD, including user and custom attributes, groups, and organizational units. The reporting interface takes a few minutes to get used, but it provides a lot of power.
One of the most impressive things about this product is that it combines many features generally found in separate products. It includes scores of features that are in monitoring and reporting applications and in mobile device management solutions. Perhaps Mailscape's coolest feature is that it can display all this varied information in customized dashboards. Several sample dashboards are provided, including a simple and intuitive Help Desk dashboard, as well as others for management, security teams, and Exchange/AD administrators.
I found the mobile device monitoring and reporting feature very useful. Mailscape automatically tests Client Access servers to make sure that ActiveSync is working. It also includes Blackberry monitoring features that let you visually correlate users and devices through a cool graphic that pinpoints where an issue is occurring.
I look forward to seeing what else ENow comes up with next in the way of support for more elements on a network. But in the current version of Mailscape, they already have Exchange monitoring and reporting nailed down.