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The SQL Server Central Management System: Definition

Last updated Mar 28, 2003.

Almost every Database Administrator I know, and in fact almost any kind of system administrator, has some basic needs to manage and monitor the systems assigned to them. And most of us have either bought or designed a system to help us do that.

These systems that we design often have the same basic characteristics in common. There are several basic things we need to know, be able to track, and act on.

The basic components of a management and monitoring solution are as follows:

  • A list of the systems the administrator is responsible for
  • Configuration information about those systems
  • Status information on the systems
  • Historical metrics on the system
  • The ability to collect the above information
  • Central reporting of the above information
  • The ability to have alert information sent on critical issues from the affected systems to a single location
  • The ability to design desired configurations for the systems and evaluate those configurations across the systems
  • The ability to run commands on all systems from a central location

As you study this list, I think you’ll find that you’ve probably got a lot of these requirements as well, and you may have even designed a system to help you perform these actions. But you may not have created a solution for each part, or perhaps you have to go to multiple locations to accomplish all of these objectives.

In many shops I’ve seen DBAs create these management systems, or perhaps buy one. But some of these solutions don’t fit the bill completely. If you’re faced with this situation, or if perhaps you don’t have a management and monitoring solution, you have several options. Among those options, there are two basic approaches: buy a solution, or build one. This series of tutorials are based on creating your own solution from scratch, but you should read through this overview to make sure you’ve considered all of the options.

Buying a Solution

The fastest way to get a good management and monitoring solution is to buy one. The code, processes and even expertise in a technology such as Microsoft SQL Server is baked right in. You don’t have to do anything other than install it.

Well, that’s not really true. No matter what solution you purchase, you need to learn how to install, configure and operate it. Some of these solutions have a fairly decent learning curve. And some are not inexpensive — and no matter what the economic environment, companies aren’t exactly willing to shell out money for an IT tool.

But if you can convince your company that buying a canned solution will help you keep the systems up and running, you have several options. I’ll go over a few of the options I’ve seen that work fairly well. By no means is this list exhaustive, and I don’t recommend one over another. Each has plusses and minuses associated with them, and all do the job. You can use this list as a starting point, and then decide which works best.

Microsoft’s System Center Operations Manager

I’ll start with Microsoft’s offering in this area, System Center Operations Manager (SCOM). SCOM is the replacement for Microsoft Operations Manager, or MOM. SCOM is now part of a suite of products, called System Center, that are aimed at assisting IT professionals in security, software distribution and managing and monitoring hardware and software.

It uses a SQL Server database on the back end, and “agents” software that is installed on each system that you want to monitor. The agent software runs through various tests such as the registry and software inventories to find out what is installed on the system, and then it downloads “Management Packs” that know how to interrogate or control the software. Microsoft and other companies write these Management Packs, and they can also be edited to perform other collection or management actions. The SQL Server Management Pack is very robust, and can track everything from the service pack installed to the drive space use for any database. It also has several “alerts” that it can raise for SQL Server actions already built into the management pack.

You can learn more about SCOM here.

HP Openview

HP Openview is a product (which has been renamed to HP Software and Solutions) that has a long history. It has several parts, one of which is now called HP Operations Manager or HPOM. HPOM works in a similar way to SCOM, with a central control center system and a set of agents that run on each system you want to monitor.

Although the agents allow monitoring and acting on SQL Server events, they don’t have the richness of the SCOM Management Pack for SQL Server. It does, however, create alarms as part of its OSSPI (OS Smart Plug In).

HPOM can monitor Windows log files and run scheduled or take actions based upon certain conditions. You can also use SNMP traps using Regular Expressions to take actions. Alerts can have an action associated with them, firing automatically or manually by the operator.

Events create an HPOM “Message,” which is then sent on to the management server. You can log into the central system using a UNIX program, or using a Java based GUI for UNIX or Microsoft Windows. It also integrates into trouble-ticket systems such as Remedy, HP’s OpenView Service Desk or OpenView Service Center.

An advantage to the HPOM system is that it works on almost any platform there is, from Windows to UNIX and others. You can find more about this product here.

Quest Central

The previous two products target all kinds of management — they can help you monitor everything from the operating system to the network stack, and also SQL Server. As such, they are often targeted at a different kind of administrator. If the organization is large enough, they might have a central location to monitor all of their IT assets. This first line of defense, so to speak, is perfect for SCOM or HPOM. You could set up a single stack of the database, the operating system it runs on, the hardware for that, the networking stack and so on. Being alerted on this stack is very useful for quickly determining where a problem is so that you can correct it. But this broad level of access can lead to a dilution of a particular platform, such as SQL Server.

Vendors that focus on SQL Server, such as Quest, can provide more detailed information and even corrections for a SQL Server instance or database. Their current product (at least as of this writing) that combines these functions is called Quest Central, or QC.

QC is actually a combination of products in a single location. It includes:

  • Spotlight on SQL Server
  • Quest Performance Analysis for SQL Server
  • SQL Tuning
  • Capacity Manager for SQL Server

I’ve reviewed Spotlight on SQL Server before, and the other tools listed here are also focused on SQL Server performance as well. While this fits the bill for some of the requirements that I listed earlier, it doesn’t do them all. It does store data back in a SQL Server database, but it is a proprietary database that you aren’t technically allowed to access directly.

You can find out more about Quest Central here.

Idera’s SQL Diagnostic Manager

Along the same lines is a product from Idera that monitors SQL Server Instances, and can alert you on performance data and thresholds. It has a great feature that transmits this data to a mobile device or PDA. Once again, this product is focused on performance, and the database it uses is not licensed for direct access. You can find out more about here.

Building a Solution

Although all of these products, and several more that I didn’t mention, definitely have the potential to help you manage and monitor your SQL Server systems, there are advantages to building one of your own — or building out the parts yourself that the canned solutions lack.

What is needed, then, is a solution that meets the following criteria, in addition to having all of the functionality described earlier:

  • Free or low-cost
  • Easily implemented
  • Customizable
  • Uses standard components and methods
  • Well known and documented
  • Extensible
  • Centrally located
  • Based on components that can be switched in and out

Looking at this list, the parts of the system fall into three camps:

  1. Storage (for the systems, status and history data)
  2. Execution (for collecting the data and performing actions)
  3. Reporting (for viewing the data and providing a jumping off point for the actions)

Of course, this is a broad set of categories — but that’s the beauty of this approach. In this design, the first set of “components” are these broad areas. We have within SQL Server 2008 all of the features we need to perform all of this work. The solution I’ll design in this series will satisfy all of these requirements, and allow you to fold in almost any product or process you use now. And since you’ll create the solution yourself based on what I show you here, you’ll get exactly what you want.

I want to emphasize that this solution does not have to replace a canned solution that you purchase from any of these vendors. If you need a management and monitoring solution, make sure you evaluate the vendors I’ve mentioned here, along with the others that you can find using a web-based search. You may find that a single purchase will save you the time it takes to develop one, and that might prove to be more cost-effective.

If however, you are interested in following along with this solution, make sure you check the links at the bottom of this article. I’ll reference a CodePlex (Microsoft’s open-source software site) where I’m creating a solution called the SQL Central Management System, or SQLCMS. If you’re interested in participating, just post a notice there that you want to join in the solution. We’ll design it together.

InformIT Articles and Sample Chapters

Learn more about Microsoft’s System Center Operations Manager in this section in the Windows Server Reference Guide.

Books and eBooks

Interested in learning more about HP’s OpenView? Check out the wide selection of books on InformIT, and start with this one: OpenView Network Node Manager: Designing and Implementing an Enterprise Solution (also available in Safari Books Online).

Online Resources

The SQL Central Management System (SQLCMS) CodePlex project.