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Byrona, we are looking at making changes to alerting in the long term and I have logged this specific request to make sure we consider it as part of the new design (no promises if and when though).
Unfortunately, there isn't going to be a good way to manage alerts for your customers other than for you to manually build each of them out as you described with the distribution list.
In the meantime, we are also working on a product to help manage alerts across multiple systems. This might help with what you are looking for. I sent a note to the PM for that product to review this thread and add anything if appropriate.
Thanks for the considerations Mav! I am aware of the Alert Management solution you guys are working on. I was able to provide some early feedback based on some mock-ups that I was presented; I am really looking forward to seeing that finished product.
If you need somebody to review mock-ups and provide feedback on the changes you have planned for alerting please let me know.
We too are acting in somewhat of a service provider capacity for our internal customers across multiple companies, and are sending alerts to them for their respective devices. Like you, we opted to send them to a distribution list populated in a custom property instead of individuals wherever possible. Fortunately, we have been able to contain them to a common set of alerts for devices within each functional area (WAN/VPN routers, LAN switches, APs, WAN accelerators, etc) and across all customers, so we don't have to build and maintain alerts with specific thresholds per customer. That's not to say we may not have to go down that path in the future.
Basically, we have (for ex.) a single alert set up for high percentage of available optimized connections in use on our Riverbed appliances to alert both our NetOps staff and the associated customer to this condition. The email recipient addresses are housed in two separate custom node properties (one for NetOps and one for customers) and called via macros in the trigger and reset actions. Just about everything we do is tied to custom properties, so as we receive new requests to receive the alerts for devices, we simply populate the DL in the custom property for customer alerts. Works pretty well, and only requires a single alert to be configured.
I have given some thought (though not fully vetted) to the possibility that we may be forced to configure differing criteria per customer, and potential options around a mechanism to allow the customers to at least alter some of the conditions around their alerts, but still hope we don't have to go down that road. I believe it could be done via some creative use of custom properties and some custom web resources, but plan to put up a fight first... It would be relatively simple to employ a mechanism for customers to edit the email recipient address for their devices, but the idea of customers updating things on our system just doesn't sit well with me; at least at first reaction and without giving it serious consideration.