Microsoft System Center 2012 Operations Manager offers significant new functionality, including enhanced network monitoring and application performance monitoring, as well as architectural changes to remove the root management server and to add management server pools. These capabilities are all important, but one of the most interesting investments is Operations Manager 2012's integrated dashboard functionality.

Dashboard History

Let's start with a little history of Operations Manager and dashboards. When Operations Manager 2007 was released, its built-in dashboard functionality provided a way to display multiple views in one dashboard interface. This functionality was useful when the Operations Manager console was scoped to a group of users: Their views were combined in a single dashboard. However, this type of a dashboard wasn't very flexible and didn't meet common requirements, including

  • a Network Operations Center (NOC) display that shows the health of various key applications or websites
  • a customizable view that shows the health and interrelationship of applications that are monitored by Operations Manager
  • the ability to provide custom charts, graphs, or gauges beyond those available in the built-in performance view

Microsoft added Service Level Dashboard 2.0 for Operations Manager 2007 R2. This solution integrated service levels with Operations Manager and used a Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 solution to display these service levels. The updated display included a gauge for the current availability and a historical chart for the service level. This solution provided integrated reporting for the Service Level Dashboard information and used SharePoint 2007 Service Pack 1 (SP1) or Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 3.0 SP1 to display it.

Microsoft later provided the Visio 2010 Add-in for Operations Manager 2007 R2. The add-in integrated Visio diagrams with Operations Manager, using Visio 2010 and SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Edition. This technology (or the third-party solution from Savision, Live Maps for Microsoft System Center) provided a way to generate an NOC view and to display the health and interrelationships of applications monitored by Operations Manager.

Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and Service Manager added dashboard functionality through a solution accelerator. This provided a method to generate charts, graphs, and gauges, based on queries of data from Microsoft SQL Server databases, including the OperationsManager and OperationsManagerDW databases.

Using these various technologies, a comprehensive solution could be developed to meet most dashboard requirements for Operations Manager. For more details on Operations Manager 2007 R2 and its dashboard solutions, see " Operations Manager Dashboards."

The Framework

Flash forward to Operations Manager 2012, which introduces a flexible and powerful framework that integrates dashboard solutions directly into the Operations Manager console. A few new terms are introduced as part of this functionality:

  • Template—the layout that is defined for a dashboard. Options include a column, grid, or Service Level Dashboard layout.
  • Widget—the components that are added into a template to display data. Widgets can display alert, performance, or state information from Operations Manager.

You build Operations Manager 2012 dashboards directly into the Monitoring pane of the Operations Manager console, by creating a new dashboard view. When a dashboard view is created, the New Dashboard and Widget Wizard starts automatically. This wizard provides two templates that are used to provide the structure into which widgets are added.

The column layout divides the dashboard into a series of vertical sections so that you can add different widgets to the different columns of the dashboard. Figure 1 shows a two-column layout in which widgets can be added to the left or right side. The column layout allows additional widgets to be added to the bottom of the columns so that a user can scroll through the content that the various widgets provide in the dashboard.

Figure 1: Adding widgets in a two-column layout
The grid layout divides the dashboard into one to nine cells to which widgets can be added. Available layouts vary depending on the number of cells that are specified. Figure 2 displays the options that are available when you use a four-cell grid layout.

Figure 2: Options for a four-cell grid layout
After you specify a dashboard column or grid template, you can add widgets to the framework. In addition, you can put other layouts inside the template. For example, you can create a two-column layout, and then add a grid to one of the columns or subdivide a column into two subcolumns. Figure 3 shows a two-column layout in which the second column contains a four-cell grid.

Figure 3: Inserting grids in a column
The Service Level Dashboard functionality in Operations Manager 2012 is available as a dashboard layout. This layout provides a quick way to display service level information. Figure 4 shows an example of a service level that is defined for Operations Manager, with different service level objectives based on whether planned maintenance is counted as downtime.

Figure 4: Defining a service level
The templates that Microsoft has built for dashboard solutions provide an extremely flexible framework that can provide a variety of dashboard solutions, depending on the available widgets.

The Wonderful World of Widgets

After you define a framework for your dashboard, using the available templates, you can display Operations Manager data through the addition of widgets. After creating the dashboard, you add widgets by clicking the Click to add widget option, which you can see in Figure 3. Six widgets are available in Operations Manager 2012: the alert widget, state widget, details widget, instance details widget, performance widget, and objects by performance widget.

Alert widget. The alert widget provides a way to display alert information in a dashboard. Alert views can be scoped to a group or object to the left of the default view of all objects. Criteria can be defined to restrict the view to display only alerts of specific severities (e.g., Critical, Warning, Informational), priorities (e.g., High, Medium, Low), or resolution states (e.g., New, Closed, custom resolution states). Column choices are available for all available informational fields, from the name of the alert to the custom fields for the alert. You can specify the sort order and grouping for the alerts. You can also enable the option to display alert details inline. This option displays the information for the alert that you highlight in the alert widget, as Figure 5 shows. After a widget has been created, you can use filtering to display specific data. (The alert widget in Figure 5 displays only alerts that match the filter "windows server 2008 r2").

Figure 5: The alert widget
State widget. The state widget provides a way to display state information in a dashboard. State views can be scoped to include groups or objects that you choose. You can specify the class to display (e.g., the Windows Computer class). You can restrict the state view to display data only in specific health states (e.g., Healthy, Warning, Critical, Not Monitored) or to display only objects in maintenance mode. In the state view, you can choose various columns from the available informational fields (e.g., the path and health of the object), and you can specify the sort order and grouping for the state information that is displayed. Figure 6 shows a simple state view that displays the health, display name, and maintenance mode information for all Operations Manager monitored systems (both agent and agentless).

Figure 6: The state widget
Details widget. The details widget displays the details for the object that's highlighted in the dashboard view. For example, if an Operations Manager agent is highlighted, then the details widget displays the display name, path, health, object display name, maximum queue size, port, and other details for that agent. If an alert is highlighted in the dashboard view, then the widget shows the details of the alert, such as the description, source, path, monitor or rule, and when the alert was created.

Instance details widget. The instance details widget is like the details widget, but the specific group or object it displays data for in the dashboard is determined when the widget is added instead of when an object is highlighted in the dashboard view.

Performance widget. The performance widget provides a way to display performance information in a dashboard. To add counters to a performance widget, choose a group or object and then add one or more performance counters. You can add multiple counters, such as % Processor Time, PercentMemoryUsed, and % Free Space, to the same performance widget. A time range for the performance counters defaults to 24 hours but can be decreased or increased, up to the retention period for the data warehouse.

The performance widget doesn't have the same limitation as a performance view in Operations Manager. Performance views read from the OperationsManager database, in which data is retained for a period of 7 days by default. Because the performance widget reads from the OperationsManagerDW database, the widget can provide data that spans longer periods (up to the retention period of the data warehouse, which is 400 days by default).

You can display various fields in the performance widget, including the minimum, maximum, and average values for the performance counter. Figure 7 shows % Processor Time for servers in a group over the past 30 days, ordered by maximum value. This approach makes it easier to locate systems that are experiencing high processor utilization. The same approach can easily be used to represent history for other performance counters, such as % Free Space, and then ordered to sort by the minimum value, to identify low disk-space conditions.

Figure 7: The performance widget
Objects by performance widget. The objects by performance widget provides performance information for the specified object or group of objects, based on the performance counter that you specify, for a duration of up to 10 days. The widget shows either a specified number of top or bottom number results. For example, to use this widget to create a list of the top 10 disks that have the least amount of free disk space on the C drive, as Figure 8 shows, choose the All Windows Computer Group and the LogicalDisk / % Free Space / C: counter.

Figure 8: The objects by performance widget
It appears that Microsoft has made this framework flexible so that vendors can write their own widgets for the dashboard framework. An example of this is Savision's Live Maps solution, which can be integrated with the Operations Manager dashboard framework (for more information about this solution, see the Learning Path).

Homes for Widgets?

Another way that Microsoft has made changes to Operations Manager 2012 is to provide a much more consistent user experience between the Operations Manager console and the Operations Manager web console. The new web console is based on Microsoft Silverlight, and the Operations Manager 2012 dashboard functions the same in both consoles, for a virtually identical dashboard experience. Figure 9 shows an example of the Operations Manager 2012 web console, displaying examples of the three widgets that I discuss in this article. Microsoft has also provided integration for widgets so that they can be displayed in SharePoint 2010. Resources for the steps that are required to integrate these widgets are included in the Learning Path box.

Figure 9: Operations Manager 2012 web console

Manipulating Dashboards

After a dashboard template has been created, you cannot change between the grid and column layouts. To make that change, you must delete the original dashboard and create a new one.

Although you can't switch between layouts, you can update the number of columns and cells in a grid. To change the number of columns in a dashboard or the number of cells in a grid, right-click the dashboard and change its properties through the Update Configuration Wizard.

You can also change the widgets within a dashboard. You can modify existing widget functionality by using the gear icon on the top right of the widget, as shown in Figure 10. Click the icon to access these options:

  • Delete Contents—Remove the widget that was added to the template.
  • Swap with next widget—Move the highlighted dashboard to the next space to the right in the same section of the template.
  • Swap with previous widget—Move the highlighted dashboard to the next space to the left in the same section of the template.
  • Configure—Change the configuration of the widget.
  • Personalize—Leave the original widget configuration in place but personalize how it works.

Figure 10: Modifying widget functionality

Dashboards are not static. Because of the framework that the Operations Manager 2012 dashboards use, they can be updated easily after they have been created.

Dashboards Currently Available

At the time of this writing, four dashboards are included in Operations Manager 2012. Two are in Networking Monitoring, and two are in the Operations Manager Management Pack:

  • Network Summary Dashboard (Network Monitoring)—This dashboard displays the nodes with the slowest response time, nodes with the highest CPU, interfaces with the highest CPU, and interfaces with the most send errors (over the past 7 days)
  • Network Vicinity Dashboard (Network Monitoring)—This dashboard shows the devices in the vicinity of the network device, availability information, properties of the node, and average response time.
  • Management Group Health (Management Pack)—This dashboard (shown in Figure 11) provides the health of the management group functions and the management group infrastructure, as well as any active alerts, agent configuration information, and agent versions.
  • Management Group Health Trend (Management Pack)—This dashboard displays the number of active alerts and the agent health state (over the past 7 days).

Figure 11: The Management Group Health dashboard

More prebuilt dashboards, including those for information from other Microsoft products, are likely to be added now that Operations Manager 2012 has been released to manufacturing. The dashboard solutions in Operations Manager 2012 are stored in these management packs:

  • Microsoft SystemCenter DataProviders Library—This pack contains the data provider components that receive data from the OperationsManager and OperationsManagerDW databases for display in the UI controls.
  • Microsoft SystemCenter Visualization Network Library—This pack contains the components and implementation for the majority of the network dashboard.
  • Microsoft SystemCenter Visualization Configuration Library—This pack contains components that enable personalization and configuration of all dashboards.
  • Microsoft SystemCenter Visualization Network Dashboard—This pack contains the definition of the network dashboards and references the components in the Microsoft SystemCenter Visualization Network Library.
  • Microsoft SystemCenter Visualization Internal—This pack contains internal components that the dashboard UI framework uses.
  • Microsoft SystemCenter Visualization Library—This pack contains the majority of the UI controls that comprise the widgets. Widgets are used in both the IT Pro dashboard creation and the out-of-box dashboards, such as the network dashboards.
  • Microsoft SystemCenter Visualization ServiceLevelComponents—This pack contains the Dial service level gauges that are in the network summary dashboards.

Microsoft has done a solid job filling the gap that has existed in the Operations Manager product line with a solid framework. This extensible framework uses templates to define dashboard layouts, into which widgets are added.

Learning Path

For more information about Operations Manager's features and functionality:

"Introducing Operations Manager 2012 Dashboards

"Operations Manager 2012 Dashboards—The Alert Widget "

"Operations Manager 2012 Dashboards—Performance Widget"

"OpsMgr 2012, Savision & Dashboards"

"How are OpsMgr 2012 Dashboards Different from Reports?"

"Using SharePoint to View Operations Manager Data"