Monitor BackOffice services with NetIQ's systems and application management suite

Whoever said that the bigger the application is, the more difficult it is to maintain, must have been talking about Microsoft's BackOffice suite. In an average day, Internet Information Server (IIS) can crash, Exchange Server can choke, and SQL Server can decide to take an early retirement. Because Windows NT and BackOffice are relatively new products, one recourse when the ensemble fails is to roll up your sleeves and try to rebuild the system; another option is to try AppManager from NetIQ. Microsoft offers Systems Management Server (SMS), which is useful for software distribution but not for overseeing applications. Compared to other systems management utilities, AppManager is unique: It is one of the first packages to monitor all aspects of NT-based applications, including application services. This focus on services means that you must purchase a separate server management program, but the robustness of a dedicated service management utility makes the extra purchase a good trade-off.

AppManager from NetIQ is one of the first systems management suites designed exclusively for BackOffice. The entire AppManager suite consists of clients that correspond to each BackOffice component, a server, management consoles, and a management data repository based on SQL Server. The clients run on the computers you are monitoring and the server governs the clients. The management consoles provide access to the clients, and the SQL Server repository stores the data.

Installing AppManager is relatively painless, but it can be tricky. You must install and activate a SQL Server system before you can load the software on the system. The InstallShield-based setup lets you select which components to install (you can select from the SQL repository, the management server and client, and the operator console, depending on which computer you're installing the software on) and then lets you configure data source names in the SQL database. You can install the server component on the SQL Server computer or on another computer on the network.

When installed, AppManager presents a list of the NT-based computers on your network in its console component. This list appears in a hierarchical format. You can expand individual computers to list the software and hardware.

AppManager proactively monitors the health of your BackOffice services (as shown in Screen 1) with a set of Visual Basic-based Knowledge Scripts. You can customize these scripts to meet your needs. Rather than executing the Knowledge Scripts on the server, AppManager copies the scripts to and runs them from the management clients. This work transfer lets the Knowledge Scripts easily gather information without taking up network bandwidth. Although the default scripts sufficed for my purposes, NetIQ's technical support offers scripting tips and advice to customers. NetIQ plans to distribute new scripts via its Web page.

AppManager starts working even before disaster strikes. If an essential service stops, AppManager detects the failure and restarts the service. Likewise, this suite monitors logging facilities to prevent, for example, Exchange Server logs from filling up your hard disk.

As a software reviewer, I try not to gush over programs, but as an NT administrator, I can't say enough about AppManager. After testing it for a week, I found the built-in monitoring tools indispensable. The ability to customize scripts makes monitoring other applications easy. Also, AppManager is remarkably stable for a version 1.0 product. Its only shortcoming is that it's too NT- centric--the suite can monitor and manage only NT systems. This limitation is a problem if you run multiple operating systems and environments on your network. However, AppManager's level of power, stability, and flexibility makes it an essential companion to BackOffice.