It’s a familiar problem – SharePoint farms have sprawled from single server builds to a multi-layered arrangement of web, app search and SQL servers. Monitoring and understanding system health across these infrastructures is no easy task, but help is at hand.
Fresh off its recent integration of Idera’s SharePoint portfolio, Metalogix has just released version 4.0 of Diagnostic Manager. Fully compatible with SharePoint 2013, the software offers complete monitoring of your SharePoint environment so that you can spot trouble fast. Not only does it handle incident troubleshooting requirements, but it goes one step further to predict and report on all aspects of your SharePoint environment – both from a technology and content perspective.
So, does it work as advertised?
We put Metalogix’s Diagnostic Manager 4.0 to the test to see how well it addresses the challenges of monitoring SharePoint performance.
Getting started with Diagnostics Manager
To demonstrate the tool’s capabilities, I ran an instance on my test system running SharePoint 2013 and SQL Server 2012. I also ran it on my SharePoint 2010 / SQL 2012 farm.
Getting started with Diagnostic Manager is a seamless process thanks to a simple 15 MB download. The self-guided installation process is also un-demanding, requiring only a few minimal inputs, including:
The location of the SQL database that stores the Diagnostic Manager database. (Although it’s a recommended best practice to use SQL aliases for SharePoint configuration, the default installation for Diagnostic Manager doesn’t recognize aliases without some additional configuration)
An account to run the data collection service.
Tip: You’ll need to create accounts in advance since there’s no on-the-fly “Add Account” button. Each account also requires specific database creation rights in the target SQL environment
As expected, at the end of the installation you’re prompted to launch the console. Upon the initial launch, you’ll be asked to supply your license key and complete a few additional set-up steps.
Next comes a small but pleasant surprise – after you specify a target farm, you can select separate accounts for accessing remote SharePoint farms, registries and topology. For mid-to-large SharePoint enterprises, this is a welcome feature since many multi-farm installations include more complex topologies with multiple service accounts. Since it’s not a best practice to share these accounts freely among multiple zones (especially development and production) this flexibility is greatly appreciated – plus you get to validate the service accounts before installation.
Finally, you have the option of adding the Metalogix Component Analysis. While not required, it’s a useful option for monitoring the performance of page components – web parts, HTML controls and web controls for performance anomalies.
Diagnostics Manager in Action
Easy enough to install, now let’s see how Diagnostic Manager handles three real-life challenges faced by SharePoint administrators and consultants.
- Diagnosis: You need to rapidly assess system health to identify trouble spots
- Preventative: You want to set early warnings on page or server performance
- Reporting: Your management team needs top level reports that can be used without Central Administration and PowerShell.
To demonstrate the tool’s capabilities, I ran an instance on my test system running SharePoint 2013 and SQL Server 2012 and my SharePoint 2010 / SQL 2012 farm. Based on my testing, Diagnostic Manager is able to satisfy all three needs. In fact, it wowed me!
The image below shows the initial home screen for Diagnostic Manager running against SharePoint 2013:
I’ve worked with SharePoint since 2000, and while many of the key elements of Diagnostics Manager have been around in different forms over the years (such as Microsoft’s own Health Analyzer rules), Metalogix takes these a step further by adding new features plus a comprehensive knowledge base to help users interpret the data and alerts charted by Diagnostic Manager.
Let’s walk through the major elements of Diagnostics Manager 4.0.
From an infrastructure perspective, Diagnostics Manager lets you aggregate insights from each server in your farm. Using the WMI instrumentation available to Windows servers, you can review performance data and trends for each server including CPU, memory, disk, network and page file. In addition to SharePoint-related Windows services, you can monitor the performance and health of any page in your SharePoint enterprise.
Note: By default, Diagnostic Manager monitors Central Administration, but it’s simple to add any page in your farm for monitoring
What should you look for when monitoring page performance? In my experience, it’s important to consider the following:
- Basic availability – is the page up, and how long does it take to load?
- More sophisticated analysis requires a comparison to historic trends. A page load time of 750ms might be totally acceptable for a page with complex controls and remote data interaction. On the other hand, if the page has always rendered in 250ms or less, that load time shows significant variance from historic norms.
- For hardcore development or customization, Metalogix ships an optional Component Analysis solution. Component Analysis allows for granular trending and performance monitoring on individual page components, HTML controls, and web parts. The image below shows how a single Web Part can contribute significantly to slow page loads.
I can already hear what you’re about to say, “Can’t I access all this information using Windows OS tools, ULS logs and Developer Dashboard (both built in to SharePoint)?”
Yes, but Diagnostic Manager provides what these tools don’t – a one-stop solution that includes data persistence and aggregation features and benefits including:
- System comparison over time is built-in, there’s no need to snapshot events and trends in a separate Excel spreadsheet.
- Quickly compare page performance across multiple front-ends in a medium to large farm – a great way to pinpoint machine-specific issues.
- Reaches across to system level trends and metrics, integrating the instrumentation generated by Windows Performance Manager (see image below).
Diagnostics Manager Alerts
While there are plenty of systems available that can provide reports and performance data, the best systems provide early warning too. Unlike other contenders, Diagnostic Manager provides a rich arsenal of customized early warning alerts. These alerts can be configured for just about any measurement including capacity, performance, errors, and page load times. Details can be reviewed within the console to show recent history and statistics. (Coming from a background in quantitative research, I appreciate the inclusion of SDev metrics to make for simple n-sigma assessments.)
Check out a sample alert below:
In addition to displaying alerts in the admin console, Diagnostics Manager also lets you define alert responses by raising notices to email, SNMP, or Windows Event Logs, allowing for integration with other enterprise consoles present in a fully managed data center.
Diagnostic Manager Reports
IT is often asked (or should I say challenged) to make technical information available to non-tech audiences. CFOs, for example, may want assurance that their investments in hardware and software lead to reliable systems and effective collaboration. Diagnostic Manager includes a rich complement of reports that, thankfully, simplify this task.
The image below shows a sample report as well as a list of available reports in the drop down menu to the left:
After running a comprehensive test of Diagnostic Manager, here are my observations:
First, I’d like to mention the application performance of Diagnostic Manager itself. In small SharePoint farms it’s relatively simple to poll systems in real-time for current state data. However, in complex topologies, real-time analysis can lead to deadlock and unacceptably long application response times. By design, Diagnostic Manager collects most farm data every four hours and updates page performance stats every 15 minutes (although any specific test can be refreshed on demand inside the application).
Despite these advantages, there are a few areas for improvement.
Not all users are going to benefit from the feature richness of the solution. For example, business content owners or compliance teams may only be interested in or authorized to review content reports or audit-centric reports. Some of the core technical capabilities of the product may be lost on these users. Unfortunately, the main Diagnostic Manager doesn’t let you trim the UI to provide role-specific information. However, the ease of report generation and export will probably be sufficient for most of these non-administrative users.
Another minor area worthy of improvement is the optional solution that can be deployed to SharePoint itself for providing Diagnostic Dashboard data inside the SharePoint UI. The farm dashboard allows some basic data and alerts to be seen inside SharePoint itself. However, the install procedure is buried in the release notes, and requires PowerShell (2013) or command line use of the legacy STSADM tool (pre-2013). It’s a small component and nice to have, but there are other full-featured browser-based management reporting systems available. I don’t think this one adds a lot of value, but the main product is so richly featured, that’s a minor consideration.
Note: There were a few errors in the pre-release documentation – you need to make sure you either use the SharePoint Management Console or add the SharePoint snap-in Microsoft.SharePoint.PowerShell to “vanilla” PowerShell. Also, Metalogix publishes different versions of the dashboard location for each support SharePoint build (2007 2010 or 2013).
Finally, Diagnostic Manager is not a security-and-administration system. Other vendors have integrated security and reporting. For enterprises needing a more active administration system, Metalogix itself now offers ControlPoint. It would be great to see Diagnostic Manager and ControlPoint as more unified, modular offering.
Some SharePoint integrated service providers are guilty of focusing on small aspects of performance management – alerting, auditing, system configuration or technical BI. This forces and limits buyers to choose between solutions that can describe current state configurations, ones than monitor changes and audit histories, and products that monitor performance in lights-out mode to trigger responses to anomalies.
Far from a simple troubleshooting tool, Metalogix Diagnostic Manager provides a comprehensive range of analysis, reporting, auditing and alerting that merits prime consideration in any SharePoint admin’s toolkit.
Start with a Free Trial
Want to try Diagnostic Manager before you buy? This free trial download is a useful starting point.
About the Author
Drawing on his experience as CTO for Dell, formerly Quest, Chris is a Microsoft SharePoint MVP, MCTS, MCSE, MSA and an MVTSP. A frequent speaker at events around the globe, Chris is the author of the “SharePoint 2013 Consultant’s Handbook” among other books. Prior to Dell, Chris led the SharePoint consulting practice at KMA, a Boston-based Microsoft Gold Partner. He holds an MBA in Investment Management from the Carroll School of Management at Boston College in Investment Management and has over 20 years of experience in financial services technology with John Hancock, State Street, GMO and Santander. He lives with his wife Hayley and his family in Milton, Massachusetts, USA.
Chris McNulty is an independent reviewer, and has no relationship, financial or otherwise, with Metalogix or related entities. He also blogs at http://www.chrismcnulty.net/blog