Executive Summary:
Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 offers system-monitoring and management capabilities. Third-party management packs and add-on solutions further extend Ops Manager’s functionality.

Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 is a hefty system-monitoring and management product that offers capabilities such as monitoring of OSs, services, devices, and applications; audit collection; the ability to collect system messages from third-party devices and UNIX/Linux systems; and reporting. Dozens of management packs are available from Microsoft and other vendors to extend the base functionality of Ops Manager by letting the product monitor specific applications. (For a complete list of System Center management packs, see the System Center Operations Manager 2007 Catalog at technet.microsoft.com/en-us/opsmgr/cc539535.aspx.)

Third-party vendors have further extended Ops Manager's capabilities through an assortment of add-on solutions, encompassing hardware, software, services, software as a service (SaaS), and managed services offerings. The buyer's guide table focuses on both third-party management packs and add-on software products for midsized or enterprise Ops Manager environments.

Management Packs and Add-ons

The base Ops Manager product provides a comprehensive range of monitoring and reporting services. Management packs, many of which Microsoft provides, extend Ops Manager to enable it to monitor specific enterprise applications from Microsoft and other vendors.

Add-ons fill in the functionality gaps not covered by the management packs. One type of add-on provides niche enhancements to Ops Manager that add specific functionality. For example, Savision's Live Maps for Operations Manager 2007 generates Microsoft Visio diagrams or maps of objects (e.g., systems, devices) monitored by Ops Manager, to let systems administrators view Ops Manager monitoring information in the context of their business processes. And Secure Vantage Technologies offers a suite of products that work with Ops Manager to provide security management, auditing, and compliance monitoring and reporting.

Another type of add-on integrates Ops Manager with another monitoring application. This type of add-on is typically called a connector, such as the EMC Smarts Connector for Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007, which lets Ops Manager and the EMC Smarts monitoring system share data, and Zenprise Connector for Operations Manager 2007, which extends Ops Manager so that it can receive alerts and problem-resolution information generated by the Zenprise Exchange and BlackBerry monitoring systems.

Trends in Ops Manager Solutions

Management packs for Ops Manager and its predecessor, Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), have traditionally focused on extending the base management solution to monitor "big ticket" applications, such as Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, DNS, Microsoft SQL Server, and Citrix Systems applications. Support for interoperability is a recent trend in Ops Manager management packs, as evidenced by Microsoft and Novell's announcement at the Microsoft Management Summit 2008 last May of their agreement to extend Ops Manager to monitor Linux and UNIX.

A notable recent trend in System Center add-on products is root cause analysis (RCA)—essentially identifying and eliminating the underlying cause of a system problem, rather than flagging and responding to symptoms of the problem. Microsoft took a step toward strengthening Ops Manager's RCA capability when it licensed EMC's Smarts technology in March 2007 with the eventual goal of building EMC Smarts network-monitoring and RCA technologies into a future version of Ops Manager. (For more information, see the press release at emc.com/about/news/press/us/2007/03272007-4975.htm.) The Zenprise and EMC Smarts connectors both give Ops Manager access to RCA information.

Features to Look For

Whether you're considering purchasing an Ops Manager management pack or an add-on point solution, the first key questions you'll want answers to are what OSs and applications the product works with. If your environment includes a mix of Windows and non-Windows systems, make sure the solution supports all the platforms you want to monitor.

The next key considerations are the types of monitoring and alerting the product performs and the metrics it provides. Most Ops Manager add-ons monitor Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and the Windows event logs, typically in near real time. Look for solutions that provide both monitoring and alerting. Management packs and some add-on products typically provide application-specific measurements, such as performance, number of users, network connectivity, and transactions per second. Some solutions will also provide mean time between failures (MTBF) and mean time to failure (MTTF) statistics. Products oriented toward compliance monitoring may report data such as security configuration or audit settings.

Another consideration is whether the product requires you to install additional agents beyond those that Ops Manager uses, such as the regular Ops Manager agent and the Audit Collection Services (ACS) agent. You might not be able to avoid the overhead of running additional agents.

You'll also want to look at the solution's support for regulatory and data-retention compliance (e.g., internal policies, federal laws and regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and SEC 17a-4). For example, does the product provide some type of monitoring for compliance and generate alerts to ensure compliance—such as ensuring certain data is archived?

Extending Ops Manager

If you're looking to extend Ops Manager's already considerable monitoring and reporting faculties, third-party management packs and add-on solutions provide a myriad of options for doing so. When evaluating products, first determine the scope of the solution you need, whether it's comprehensive application or platform monitoring or making a particular enhancement to Ops Manager's monitoring or reporting. Then use the solutions and features listed in the buyer's guide table to launch your search for the right add-on product.