Monitoring Exchange servers or any other systems come with mixed emotions with some customers. You get a frantic phone call to say that Exchange is down or Outlook lost connection or I cannot send email. The first question I ask is: “What does the monitoring system report?” What happens next is that I typically get silence on the other end of the phone.
Monitoring Exchange: Some options
Monitoring your environment is critical, not only for Exchange and Active Directory but for your networks. There are several systems that do monitoring on quite a big level within the environment. Here’s a few of them:
- System Center Operations Manager (SCOM)
- ConnectWise (LabTech)
- Some free solutions.
When I try to advise a client on a monitoring solution, all they ask you is how much does it cost. They don’t ask the important questions like:
- What monitoring will we get with the product?
- Will it monitor if a service fails?
- Will it monitor if a server reboots?
- Will it monitor space on my servers?
- Will it monitor network activity and advise on bottlenecks or packet loss?
- Do I need an agent on each machine or does it scan the network?
- How will it impact performance on my servers?
- Can I pull reports for a server to see how it operates over a period of time?
- Can I create custom monitors for reporting?
- Can it predict failure?
The list goes on and on.
Having worked with a number of the products above, each of them has its pros and cons. Let’s see what each one gives you. Remember, this is my opinion on a product and you will need to do your homework for what works best for the company.
System Center Operations Manager (SCOM)
I have worked with System Center Operations Manager since the MOM days before it changed its name and the product from Microsoft has evolved over time. It is a very powerful monitoring system and now with Azure, you can integrate it as well and have events uploaded to Azure.
As for monitoring, it does this very well. It alerts on the following:
- Low disk space
- Services stopping
- Servers that rebooted
- CPU/Memory usage
The list of things is quite extensive. The challenge with System Center Operations Manager is you need to know how to set it up and it requires a lot of configuration — and most of all patience. There is also a big cost for the System Center Suite and SQL. Every admin who logs into SQL to run reports or do things will need a client access license (CAL). However, once this has been set up and tweaked it will notify you, for example, that a disk is going to fail and your alerts will show exactly what is happening in your environment.
SolarWinds monitoring products are also good. It can report on a lot of things, similar to SCOM. The setup is not too complicated either. The reports you can request come with a lot of detail. Here are a few things that SolarWinds does:
- Hyper-V / VMWare troubleshooting
- Performance monitoring
- Change management
- Security Events Manager
There are more options, but you can see SolarWinds does have some nice extras and you can try it for free as well. Like SCOM, it has a trial period.
LabTech, which is now known as ConnectWise, is also very powerful in its monitoring. With this product, you can create scripts and have them do things for you. For example, the TEMP directory on your client access servers (CAS) on Exchange or the IIS log directory can fill up pretty quickly, and you can have this product go and do a cleanup once a day or every other day automatically and send you an output of the cleanup.
You can also schedule services to be restarted. It also reports on the following:
- Low disk space on servers.
- Services that have stopped.
- Servers/desktops that have gone offline.
- Servers rebooted.
- Exchange queues that are high.
- Exchange databases that are busy.
- It also monitors mount points.
These are just a few of the things it can do. It is more than just monitoring. This is agent-based like SCOM and also a product that has a hefty price tag to it, but it does a fantastic job in the sense that if you had a malware outbreak on your Exchange servers or needed to change the DNS on servers, it can be done handled seamlessly with a script and by selecting multiple machines.
Auvik is more of a network monitoring tool. It reports on devices that have come online or gone offline and can report broadcasts on your switches. It can also provide information about things on the network. If you wanted to know where IP XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX belongs or where it is located, well Auvik can do that well.
There are some free tools out there that can do some form of monitoring for you. They are applications like Managed Engine or Spiceworks. The installations are simple and they are easy to configure. If you are a 10-person shop, this might ideal for you to monitor the basics.
Monitoring Exchange means catching problems early
As you can see there are many tools available to monitor Exchange and the rest of your environment. You can have ConnectWise and Auvik as an example doing monitoring of everything and you now have a painted picture of what your environment looks like and where there are problems. This allows you to catch them early before you have failures or find points running out of space.
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