GSX Blog

Does Exchange 2013 kill third party monitoring applications?

Posted by Jean-Francois Piot on Fri, Oct 05, 2012

We’re just coming back from the Microsoft Exchange Conference (#IamMEC!) in Orlando and, as expected, most of the sessions dealt with Exchange 2013.

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As a Product Manager at GSX Solutions, I attended a session about Exchange 2013: "Managed Availability" because I was curious about what I could learn on this new functionality. How to say, the first 10 minutes completely fit my worst expectations! Fortunately sessions do not last more than 10 minutes and as we went along with these new Exchange features, the more I started to smile again. Yes, a third party tool for monitoring and reporting is more than ever necessary technology.

For the first 10 minutes, the power of marketing was just amazing! Microsoft claimed to have a full understanding of the concept of service monitoring thanks to their Office 365 experiences. As a result they now focus Exchange 2013 built monitoring capabilities on user experience rather than the system. 

3 main points were stressed at this session :

  • Manage availability:  User focus means that now Exchange 2013 includes integrated synthetic transactions exactly as the SCOM Management pack for Exchange 
  • Monitoring : Dependencies and correlations that drive the alert system have a lot in common with the SCOM Management pack. 
  • Auto Healing: Now Exchange 2013 services restart automatically in case of issues, without even notifying an Exchange administrator with an alert.

I was a bit surprised that SCOM and reporting were not really discussed at this session.

Attending this session was full of emotions! Fear, hope, joy…

It is a logical progression to include a system that directly checks and tests the servers performing synthetic transactions in the next version of Exchange.

Regarding the SCOM Management pack, it will now become a repository of alerts. A bit like how GSX Monitor & Analyzer uses it for the moment as we were convinced since day one that the complexity of the SCOM management pack was really not in line with what an Exchange administrator needs.

Are the built-in capabilities of Exchange 2013 killing our market?

I would say no for multiple reasons:

1/ Manage Availability is a black box.
People don’t see anything. Everything is done internally and automatically because it has been designed for administrators who only care about services delivered to the end users. There is no UI and nowhere to see what is happening apart from the event log. An administrator will not be able to easily see what’s going on in their environment.

2/ Any change or management of these features has to be made in PowerShell.
We know for sure that PowerShell is a big advance in Exchange administration. The problem is that PowerShell is very powerful and sometimes too complex for complicated tasks, automation and reporting.. Tools like GSX Monitor & Analyzer are based on PowerShell cmdlets and transform the knowledge collected into a simple UI that shows the architecture and allows changes with a click to modify the way the environment is monitored.

3/ Auto-healing feature will make happy and…unhappy administrators.
As Exchange 2013 Managed Availability is a black box, administrator swill not know if a CAS, a Mailbox or any other services components restart constantly. They’ll be notified if a problem becomes serious and a failover occurs. So how they see that a particular Client Access Sserver experiences serious problems with performance or availability when services automatically restart without any notification?
GSX Monitor & Analyzer focuses alerts on user scenarios and performance counters that prevent any user impact and allows administrators to have a complete view of the performance of an individual “server” (CAS, Mailbox in Exchange 2013) and services.

4/ New tests
Exchange 2013 allows third party tools to include more tests and to take advantage of its built-in capabilities. Moreover, the lack of UI regarding Managed Availability, the tests, auto-healing, etc… allows us to provide more value to our customers.
The new PowerShell cmdlets will allow us to design new tests and new performance counters that bring together valuable metrics for resolution.

5/ Reporting
There is no reporting feature in Exchange 2013. No historical data regarding the availability of the servers, the roles, the users, etc.
Of course, doing forecasting and sizing is important yet not available natively. Administrators will still have the possibility to use report builder…
Again, GSX Monitor & Analyzer captures the important statistics in terms of availability and usage of the platform to provide out of the box pre-configured reporting, automatic reports, forecasting and sizing help into a web interface fully customizable.
The comparison of servers performance, comparison of the availability, the usage of the components of the platform, comparison of the usage of each department of your messaging infrastructure will still remain some of the leading features of GSX Monitor & Analyzer.

6/ Multiplatform
Microsoft’s strategy is to integrate Exchange, SharePoint and Lync to as a single office suite. Hence, the ability to manage these at the same time, from a single interface and without any agent installed on the server the performance of these environments (and also BlackBerry, active Directory, URLs, etc.) becomes much more critical.

At GSX, we think that messaging and collaboration are the two faces of a coin. Providing a decent understanding of the health of each environment as well as easy and powerful reporting capabilities for these multiple platforms will still be our Mo-jo.

Find out why more than 6 million mailboxes are monitored by GSX Solutions!

Tags: Microsoft Exchange, GSX Monitor, Exchange 2013, MEC, SCOM, Exchange Community