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SOFTWARE/SYSTEM ADMINISTRATION

PerfMan 1.1
Supplement Perfmon with this toolkit
PerfMan from The Information Systems Manager (ISM) is an extensive toolkit for monitoring every aspect of an enterprise network. PerfMan provides data management, trend analysis, graphical reporting, database interfacing, and automation. ISM created PerfMan to supplement Microsoft's Windows NT Performance Monitor (Perfmon). PerfMan manages the same metrics (the measured events, counters, and traffic items) available to NT's Perfmon, but PerfMan improves the versatility, power, and control over how the tool monitors these items, what data it collects, and how it stores, views, and reports data. Specifically, PerfMan can centrally manage the monitoring activities of an entire network, gather different metrics for each computer (unlike Perfmon), and distribute the monitoring activities over multiple computers to reduce network performance degradation. (For a description of Perfmon, see Michael D. Reilly, "The Windows NT Performance Monitor," March 1997 and "More Windows NT Performance Monitor," page 157.)

How PerfMan Works
PerfMan 1.1 has three components: PerfMan Server, PerfMan Collector, and PerfMan Analyst. Its modular design lets you install only the components you need on a specific machine, so that you can keep the monitoring activities from degrading network performance.

The PerfMan Server is the administrative control nucleus for an entire enterprise network. The Server controls the installation and configuration of one or more Collectors (which gather data), summarizes the collected metrics, and manages the database of accumulated log files. PerfMan Server configures and manages the metrics for every monitored system and exports metric raw data to text files for use by other applications.

The PerfMan Collector is an NT service, that the operating system starts automatically. You can install this component on several machines to distribute the monitoring load. Each instance, or installation, of the Collector can gather data from its host computer and from any number of other target systems. The PerfMan Collector monitors the target systems without additional software. The Collector has no user interface (UI); instead, the PerfMan Server installs, controls, and manages the Collector.

The PerfMan Analyst is the set of integrated analysis tools that can run from any Windows 3.x (or higher) or compatible system on the network. With the Analyst, you can view metrics from one monitored system or every monitored system over any period from minutes to years. Furthermore, the Analyst provides such reporting tools as the Chart Builder and Exception Analysis, which aid in presenting and interpreting the gathered metric data.

What PerfMan Can Do
PerfMan can monitor the performance of networks of any size. Using your network's existing logical layout, PerfMan can divide your network into manageable regions, each monitored by a single Collector host. In ISM's labs, one Collector gathered measurements from 250 machines--only available memory and computing horsepower on the Collector host system limit the number of systems each Collector can monitor.

PerfMan can analyze data collected over various intervals and can compare current collections of measurements with historical collections--even with data sets of varying metrics, missing data, and overlapping time frames. You can adjust PerfMan to collect data for short intervals for rapidly changing environments or for long intervals for stable systems. You can use PerfMan's built-in scripting capabilities to automate repetitious activities to simplify reporting and data file management.

You don't have to use the PerfMan Analyst to interpret and view the collected metrics. You can export custom-selected data groups from specific intervals, systems, or metrics to other applications, spreadsheets, and databases such as SAS, Excel, and SQL Server. By combining the automated scripting abilities and the export functions, you can easily use applications you are already familiar with to create your own custom monitoring tools and utilities.

Installation
Although installation of PerfMan is straightforward, you need to be aware of some potential problems. If you want PerfMan to perform up to its capabilities, pay close attention to the installation instructions. The following elements can prevent PerfMan from functioning properly.

Each component of PerfMan requires administrative access to the Registry and file system of the computers that the particular component monitors. Use multiple accounts and groups to establish a tiered security system for the PerfMan components so that each PerfMan component has the proper permission level to access the systems it monitors or accesses. Specifically, the Collector needs access to each system it monitors and collects data from, the Server needs permission to retrieve the data from the Collector hosts, and the Analyst needs permission to access the database stored on the Server system.

Clock synchronization across your network is important because the Collector gathers metrics in coordination with the time clocks of each Collector host. Proper enterprisewide timestamps correlate and integrate metrics from multiple Collectors. The NT time synchronizing service (TIMESERV) can help synchronize network time (for the latest details, see Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 Resource; for a description of TIMESERV and other time synchronization methods, see Tao Zhou, "Time Synchronization in an NT Network," February 1997).

The system can gather disk metrics only if you execute the command

diskperf -y

on each system and reboot. This command instructs the system to gather disk performance statistics. See NT's Help file for more information on diskperf.

PerfMan Analyst must have share access to the main installation directory of the PerfMan Server to access the log and history files stored there. I suggest sharing the installation directory immediately after you install PerfMan Server and before you install PerfMan Analyst. Also, install NT Server Service Packs (SPs) before you install PerfMan. NT Server 3.51 requires SP4 and SP5, and NT Server 4.0 requires at least SP1.

Figure 1 shows a possible installation scheme of the PerfMan components. In this example, you distribute system load across many systems and regions of the network, thus balancing the monitoring load across several machines. When you plan your installation of PerfMan, take advantage of its modular design.

After I installed PerfMan, I viewed my first collection of metrics in chart form through PerfMan Analyst within five minutes. The system is easy to operate, and you can obtain meaningful data quickly. The variety of options and features available through PerfMan server, shown in Screens 1 and 2, and PerfMan Analyst, shown in Screen 3, clearly identify what PerfMan was measuring and let you compare each metric with others from the same or a different system. Screen 1 shows the eight counters PerfMan is collecting for the server Spock. Screen 2 shows the database settings for creating a summary every 30 minutes and storing these summaries for 31 days. Screen 3 is visual summary of some of the data collected on server RAS1.

Real-World Operation
Like most Windows-based tools, PerfMan is easy to use right out of the box. However, just because you can operate the application doesn't necessarily mean that you can get meaningful results. You need to be familiar with what each metric is measuring, why it is important, and how each metric relates to others. PerfMan is a tool for experienced network administrators, who already know what aspects of their network need monitoring.

Using PerfMan, you can establish a baseline against which you can judge future performance (e.g., you can determine when a server needs additional RAM or storage space). Knowing the purpose and function of each monitored system will help you learn which metrics are useful to monitor on that system, what values are normal for regular operation, and what levels represent system problems that you need to address.

If you use PerfMan consistently and interpret the gathered data regularly, PerfMan will help you find which areas of your network need improvements, gauge which servers need hardware upgrades, learn which machines are overused, ascertain which systems are improperly located in the logical layout, and prevent system failures and performance dips. By identifying areas where improvements will have the greatest benefit, you can also use the data that PerfMan has gathered to plan future network growth and expansion. For example, you can measure the throughput, CPU usage, and disk access to see where you need network upgrades, CPU replacements, and larger or faster hard disks.

When you use PerfMan with NT's Perfmon--and once you understand the baseline and standard deviations of the regular performance activities of each system--you can establish alarms to signal you when a specific system's performance is approaching a critical level. The historical data trail that PerfMan maintains and the realtime display of the metric through Perfmon eliminate the need for trial and error when you look for the cause of potential crises and implement a solution. When you use PerfMan in this manner, it becomes an early warning system by giving you detailed reports about the performance and activity of your network.

System Requirements

The PerfMan Collector and PerfMan Server components run under NT 3.51 and NT 4.0 (with relevant Microsoft SPs). The PerfMan Analyst component is a Win16 application that runs under NT, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, or OS/2 Warp. ISM recommends allowing 5MB of hard disk space for the installation of the software components and at least 100MB of hard disk space for the accumulation of gathered data on the host systems for Collector and Server. The size of the stored data files increases dramatically as the number of metrics gathered and systems monitored increases. However, you can control the size of the files by regularly exporting data or by limiting the time that the system retains the files.

Try It and See
PerfMan is an invaluable tool for system administrators who maintain a network of any size because PerfMan lets you centrally monitor every machine on your network. I recommend downloading the 30-day evaluation version from the ISM Web site and trying it out in your organization. Once you discover how useful PerfMan is, you can purchase it via fax or phone. The cost of PerfMan depends on the number of systems monitored. The current sliding scale has many increments, which range from 5 systems for $995 to 1000 systems for $90,000.

PerfMan 1.1
The Information Systems Manager
800-966-6771 or 610-865-0300
Email: services@infosysman.com
Web: http://www.infosysman.com
Price: $995 for 5 managed systems