Product Review: GSX Monitor and Analyzer v10.3
Product: GSX Monitor and Analyzer v10.3 (for Exchange)
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IT admins who struggle with the battle of good vs. evil in their networks on a daily basis know the value of a solid monitoring solution. Batman had both a bat signal and a bat phone (for both daytime crimes and times when he simply wasn’t looking up). The signal or call wasn’t the key for monitoring nor the mechanism for resolving the issue (he’d handle that all on his own). Behind the scenes there was a network of ever-aware watchers who monitored Gotham. Should something go wrong, Batman gets notified and swoops in the save the day. Blam!!!
IT admins struggle in much the same way with the forces of evil. A service goes down, a database corrupts, the Joker tosses our Exchange server out of a 3 story window and we need to know it immediately so we can restart the service/server, initiate a switchover or confirm the failover, or restore from a backup. To do this in a timely manner we need a monitoring solution that makes the reporting process similar to the bat signal/phone (I may be over-superheroicafying the whole process just a little bit.) Enter GSX Monitor and Analyzer for Exchange v10.3
GSX Monitor and Analyzer v10.3 Features
It’s important to note that GSX Monitor and Analyzer is not an Exchange-only monitoring and reporting solution. As a multi-platform monitoring solution it can assist in keeping tabs on your BlackBerry Enterprise Servers, your Exchange (2007/2010 and soon 2013) servers, your SharePoint (WSS, MOSS 2007 and 2010 and soon 2013) and any IBM Lotus Domino servers in your environment. And it does it agent-less, which really cuts back on the installation and configuration needed to begin the monitoring process.
Figure 1: The Main View
In addition to the server applications already mentioned, GSX Monitor and Analyzer also has the ability to monitor URLs so you know if your websites are up as well as your Active Directory. And it provides the real-time monitoring back to admins in an easy to read, colorful display (see Figure 1) that clearly indicates when you have a problem. As you would expect, critical information about the servers, the key server roles (Hub Transport, CAS, Mailbox), as well as load balancing elements (like your CAS Array), perimeter protection elements (like your Edge Transport), high availability elements (like your DAG configurations) and now, with v10.3, even your Unified Messaging elements can all be watched from a monitoring perspective with analysis being performed on the data coming in for improved forecasting and so forth.
Working closely with GSX Monitor, GSX Analyzer takes things to the next level by allowing administrators to get a deeper level of insight. Through extensive analysis and reporting you can design and plan migrations better, determine better management solutions, come up with more accurate SLA reporting and ultimately baseline and monitor the health of your collaboration environment.
Great New Features in v10.3
One of the best new features to v10.3 is the ability to monitor your Unified Messaging servers. As mentioned in the GSX documentation there are several key focus points that GSX centers in on to monitor the UM role including a focus on services (like the Exchange Speech Engine service and the Unified Messaging service, among others). Availability of the server itself is checked through a PowerShell ping, disk space is watched carefully, there is an autodiscover test and a few other easy-to-appreciate monitoring focus points. Learn more about the new features here.
Unified Messaging is slowing gaining ground since its release with Exchange 2007. The more clearly Exchange admins can see the purpose and implementation of this role in Exchange 2007/2010 (now built into the install of Exchange 2013’s Mailbox server role) the more we will see it being embraced. Just to recap the purpose of UM, it’s a replacement for your existing (or non-existent) voicemail system and allows for a universal inbox that includes voicemails coming in, with the ability to transcribe those voicemails, provide for an auto-attendant and Outlook Voice Access, along with a host of other features. Keep in mind the UM role is based on services and so once you have it up and running and working fine there isn’t much more to monitor in terms of functionality on a day to day basis. Sure things can break, but there are only so many moving parts here that can wreak havoc. Nevertheless it’s important to know when something does indeed break.
In addition to the UM features there is now the ability to monitor Outlook Anywhere connectivity and report back on the monitoring statistics. Much like UM, where we expect to see this being utilized even more so with Exchange 2013, we should expect to see more Outlook Anywhere connectivity as well, so it’s nice to see that GSX is already focused on OA monitoring and reporting.
Installation and Configuration Experience
Every solution type is a bit different and some require a bit more hand holding than others with the install and configuration portion. What I really liked about GSX Monitor and Analyzer is how little hand holding is necessary. The install is pretty straightforward with a Next-Next-Finish approach so long as the prerequisites are met. You can install the solution on a server or workstation OS and you need the Microsoft .NET Framework 2 and .NET Framework 4 (Full) installed on the system. The GSX Analyzer will also require IIS installed (and you’ll need the IIS 6 Metabase). There are some additional prereqs in the documentation to peruse and ensure you have in place but ultimately the install is straightforward.
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t deploy the GSX Monitor and/or GSX Analyzer on the same systems as those you are monitoring. That should be common sense but it does happen. And you don’t necessarily have to install the GSX Monitor and GSX Analyzer on the same system. When you begin the install you are given the choice.
You can also choose to install a remote client interface and a utility called MoniPing, which allows you to monitor the status of GSX Monitor from another system if you choose. I personally just jumped right in with the GSX Monitor and GSX Analyzer installs.
Figure 2: Email server configuration
Upon first start you are asked to configure the email servers for sending Alerts and Reports from GSX Monitor, as illustrated in Figure 2. All you have to do is provide SMTP Mail Server information to move forward. But don’t stress too much on this screen because from within the main Server Settings monitor you can select Preferences from the menu and Alerts (or Ctrl+L) and adjust the settings, along with a host of additional configuration setting tabs.
Being that you don’t have agents installed on your servers to do all the reporting back to your monitoring servers you will have to take a little time configuring each server you want to monitor. It’s not difficult though. You right-click the empty grey background and choose New Server and begin the configuration process through the Server Creation Wizard.
Figure 3: Servers Configuration wizard
Once complete you’ll have the layout of your servers and solutions presented as the Main View demonstrated in Figure 1. However, keep in mind, depending on the number of servers you are monitoring the display will vary.
One configuration aspect I really loved was the ability to configure alerts based on pre-defined indicators (Key Performance Indicators or KPIs) that you establish. It’s miserable when you run out of disk space on an Exchange server simply because you were so busy running around putting out fires that you forgot to check until too late. With a monitoring solution like this you can avoid those issues.
I’ve been watching GSX Monitor and GSX Analyzer for several years now and I’ve always liked the product. I’m a sucker for colorful, at-a-glance monitoring solutions that come with a lot more under the hood and GSX has that, and they keep adding to it. I like that the solution is agent-less (leaving no impact on my existing servers) that it has the capability to cover other messaging and collaboration solutions types and even has the ability to integrate with other monitoring tools like SCOM.
Solid all around, easy to install, configure and use, combined with robust analysis tools. Thumbs up!
MSExchange.org Rating 4.5/5