In my previous blog post I introduced you to several cool new features we've been working on for the next release of SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor (SAM). From sustained status conditions that are sure to help squelch nuance alerts, Windows Scheduled Task monitoring, and JSON, SAM 6.1 was already shaping up to be a pretty awesome release.

 

It's now time to take the wraps off SAM 6.1 Beta 2, and just in time for Christmas. If you've been wondering what to get yourself for the holidays, or fear that after all the presents have been unwrapped you'll have amassed a years supply of tube socks, silk ties, and ugly sweaters, you needn't worry. We have just the thing that's sure to put a smile on your face this holiday season.

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AppInsight for Exchange

 

The overwhelmingly positive feedback we received from the community regarding AppInsight for SQL since its debut in SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor 6.0 has been so phenomenal that we just couldn't stop there. The next obvious choice to get the full AppInsight treatment had to be Microsoft's Exchange. Both SQL and Exchange are complex business applications that are at the very center of most organizations' IT universe. In almost all cases, end users directly (or indirectly) interact with these applications on a continual basis. Be it for basic internal and external communications, data entry, billing, ordering, etc. SQL and Exchange tend to touch so many individuals both inside and outside the organization, that it's imperative that their health, performance, and availability is continuously monitored.

 

If you're not at all familiar with AppInsight for SQL, or the AppInsight concept, below is an excerpt from one of my previous blog posts in which I attempt to explain it.

 

AppInsight provides a whole new level of application monitoring detail that was previously very difficult, if not impossible to achieve using Application Templates. AppInsight is not a direct replacement for Applications Templates but rather an entirely new monitoring concept within SAM. Application Templates remain the primary method for quickly monitoring virtually any commercial, open source, or home grown application imaginable. In contrast, AppInsight is more akin to an entirely new product deeply embedded within SAM; designed from the top down to solve common, yet complex problems for a specific application, rather than merely a new feature.

 

Discover


As with AppInsight for SQL, monitoring your Exchange Mailbox Servers with SAM is a fairly simple, straightforward affair. For existing nodes currently managed via WMI simply click List Resources from the Node Details view and select Microsoft Exchange Server directly beneath AppInsight Applications. The same is also true for any new Exchange servers added individually to SAM and managed via WMI using the Add Node Wizard.

 

Exchange Servers can be added both individually using the methods above, or en masse using the Network Sonar Discovery Wizard. Both one-time and scheduled re-occurring discovery of Exchange servers in the environment using Network Sonar are fully supported. Either method will allow you to begin monitoring your entire Exchange environment in record time.

 

Please note that AppInsight for Exchange has been designed exclusively for Microsoft® Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2013 Mailbox Role servers. This option will not appear for nodes running previous versions of Exchange or servers running other Exchange roles, such as the Client Access role.

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Configure

 

AppInsight for Exchange uses PowerShell to collect virtually all information from the Exchange server. As such, PowerShell 2.0 must be installed on the local Orion server or Additional Poller that the node is assigned to. PowerShell 2.0 must also be installed on the Exchange Server being monitored. Windows 2008 R2 includes PowerShell 2.0 by default. If you're already running Orion on Windows 2008 R2 or greater and plan to monitor Exchange running on a Windows 2008 R2 server, you needn't worry about the PowerShell 2.0 requirement. Microsoft has taken care of that for you.

 

Beyond simply having PowerShell installed, Windows Remote Management (WinRM) must also be configured. Both locally on the Orion server, and on the remotely monitored Exchange Server. Fear not though; we've made this process incredibly simple and completely painless.

 

After discovering the Exchange mailbox servers running in your environment and choosing to monitor them, you may find them listed in the All Applications tree resource on the SAM Summary view in an "Unknown" state. This is likely due to WinRM having not been configured on either the local Orion server or the remotely monitored Exchange mailbox server. Clicking on the AppInsight for Exchange application that is in an "Unknown" state from the All Applications resource launches the AppInsight for Exchange configuration wizard.

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The AppInsight for Exchange configuration wizard will prompt you for credentials to configure and monitor the remote host. By default, credentials used to manage the node via WMI are selected. However, under some circumstances, such as using the local administrator account to manage the node, these permissions may not be adequate for monitoring Exchange. If that is the case, you can select from the list of credentials available from your Credential Library, or enter new credentials for AppInsight for Exchange to use. The account used for AppInsight for Exchange should have Exchange Admin Role permissions.

 

Once you've selected existing, or defined new credentials for AppInsight for Exchange to use, simply click "Configure Server". The configuration wizard will do the rest. It should only take a minute or two and you'll be up and monitoring your Exchange mailbox server. Easy peasy, and no agent required.

 

So what exactly is this magic "Configure Server" button doing anyway? Well nothing that couldn't be done manually with a bit of effort. Quite simply the "Configure Server" button pushes a self signed certificate to the Exchange Server and configures WinRM to function in a secure encrypted fashion between the two hosts. Steps for manually configuring your Exchange Server, as well as creating a least privilege user account for monitoring your Exchange mailbox servers using AppInsight for Exchange will be available in the SAM Administrators Guide once SAM 6.1 is officially released.

 

Monitor

 

An Exchange environment is typically comprised of multiple Mailbox Databases. Much like SQL databases, each mailbox database has its own independent status that tells the administrator how that database is currently being used (or not used in the case of databases that are "Dismounted"), as well as the health of that database. In the Mailbox Database Status resource, located on the Application Details view we see all of the databases running on this Exchange server. All but one is in a "mounted" state, but the SAMDB03 database does not appear to be running on its "preferred" server, as designated by its Activation Preference. For smaller environments where two or more Exchange Servers running in a DAG (Database Availability Group) are sitting next to each other, this might not be an issue. For larger distributed environments, losing track of where your mailbox databases are running can lead to end users complaining about email performance problems or worse. For example, If your office was headquartered in Boston, but have a DR facility in your satellite office in Shanghai, the last thing you want is all the traffic from the users in the Boston office traversing the WAN to access their mailboxes from the Shanghai server.

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As obvious as that sounds, this can and does occur for simple, sometimes seemingly stupid reasons. For example, applying Windows Updates to the Exchange server in Boston, but failing to move those mailbox databases back over from Shanghai after the reboot. It's important to know which server in the DAG your mailbox databases are mounted, and be notified when they're not mounted on the appropriate server.
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The Replication Status Checks resource, also on the Application Details view, checks all aspects of replication and replay status to provide a complete overview of the mailbox server in the Database Availability Group (DAG). This allows you to proactively monitor continuous replication, the availability of the Active Manager, and the health and status of the underlying cluster service, quorum and network components, to name a few.

 

In the event of a replication status check failure you will be notified both visually through the UI, as well as through your normal alerting mechanisms. Clicking on the "More" link for any failed Replication Status Check displays the full details of that failure.

Each mailbox database on your Exchange server is a time bomb ticking down until ultimately it runs out of space. Be it from mailbox database limits imposed by the Standard Edition of Exchange, NTFS file size limitations, or simply running out of free space on the volume where the mailbox database is stored, it's only a matter of time before the mailbox database hits the wall. When that time comes, it's certain to negatively impact any and all users whose mailboxes reside on that mailbox server.

 

To stay ahead of the game it's imperative that you have a good understanding of how your mailbox database size relates to these limitations. This will allow you to be proactive in your approach to managing your mailbox databases, and the individual mailboxes that reside within.

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Alerting

 

This is precisely the kind of information that the Mailbox  Database Size and Space Use resource provides. Not only does this resource list all mailbox databases managed by the mailbox server, their current size on disk, and the amount of white space remaining within the database, but the linear gauge also shows the percentage of the mailbox databases usage as it relates to such things as remaining free space on the volume, and file size limits imposed by Exchange edition/version or the NTFS file system. This information is then available for reporting, trending, and of course, out of the box alerts so you can be notified proactively and avoid such crisis altogether.

 

This was just a tiny glimpse into a few of the powerful new capabilities included with AppInsight for Exchange. If you'd like to try it out for yourself, don't hesitate! Sign-up here to download SAM 6.1 Beta 2 today. You need only own an existing license of SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor, and be under active maintenance to participate.

 

Your feedback (both positive or negative) is what we thrive upon. It serves either as confirmation that we're on the right track, or that adjustments and improvements need to be made. Either way, it's what helps us to build great software.

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