Saturday, May 7, 2016

Monitoring Nutanix with SCOM

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to test drive the beta version of a new management pack about to hit the market from well known solution provider - Comtrade. This new management pack brings deep monitoring of Nutanix converged infrastructure environments into SCOM.

My initial thoughts when asked to take a look at this management pack were mainly based around the fact that I've not had any exposure to Nutanix over here in Ireland - nor have I met any customers or consultants here who have deployed their products and who ultimately, could give me some feedback on them. Sure, I've seen their booths at the various conferences I've attended over the years but I still didn't really have the full picture on what they offer.

I have however, worked with Comtrade on many SCOM engagements over the years and have demo'd and sold their solutions into a lot of happy customers here and across Europe. One such solution (and arguably, the one Comtrade is best known for) is the Citrix Management Pack suite that was recently acquired by Citrix themselves.

With this proven ability to author top quality management packs in the past, I was intrigued to see what they could do with this latest one.

So before I got hands-on with the management pack, I took some time to do a bit of research on Nutanix and get a better understanding of what they offer and who they're competing against.

Who are Nutanix and what do they do?
Listed as a leader alongside vendors like Cisco, EMC, NetApp and HP in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Hyper-Converged Integrated Systems,  Nutanix have a base of approximately 1400 customers spread across most of the major enterprise industry verticals.

Their specialty is integrating server and storage resources into smaller appliances that can then be deployed into your datacenter in a relatively short space of time. Each Nutanix enclosure is referred to as a 'block' and each block can contain between 1 and 4 nodes. As I work a lot with HP kit, I relate this to a similar concept to the HP Blade Systems - where you have a main chassis that can contain different combinations of self-contained blade servers and storage appliances.

Unlike the HP Blade Systems however, Nutanix claim they have a much easier and faster method for scaling up your infrastructure when adding more blocks - along with their own hypervisor (called Acropolis) and management software that adds tiered software defined storage logic to your resource-hungry applications.

Here's an image taken from their website that shows an example of how their software defined storage architecture is put together..

Targeted Workloads
With the tiered software defined storage architecture and application logic that Nutanix have in their appliances, customers running Citrix, SharePoint, Exchange and Skype for Business workloads seem to be ideal target markets for them.

Comtrade MP for Nutanix
Now that we have an overview of who Nutanix are and what they do, it's time to take a look at the management pack that Comtrade have put together to monitor those systems.

The Comtrade Nutanix MP focuses on the following key monitoring areas for Nutanix systems...

When we view the MP in the SCOM console, we can see Comtrade have stayed consistent with their authoring by giving us the massive number of monitoring views that we've come to expect with their management packs...

The alerts generated by the management pack return easy-to-understand information about the health of the Nutanix environment and the workloads that run on it...

There's also plenty of diagram views to choose from...

With some new dashboard widgets thrown in for good measure...

If the more traditional multi-widget dashboard view is what you're after, then the MP has these in abundance too...

Application Awareness Feature
The MP comes with an awesome new feature called Application Awareness. This feature automatically discovers any Citrix or Microsoft workloads inside the virtual machines running on the Nutanix environment, identifies the various roles those workloads use, then lights up performance and availability data within a dashboard similar to the one below.

This feature will work in conjunction with the rich information you already get from the Citrix and Microsoft management packs that were designed specifically to monitor those workloads. It's also handy to have those workloads automatically discovered and grouped into the same management pack that's monitoring the hardware they're deployed to.

MP Architecture
The management pack uses a data collector (which is deployed as a Windows service) to communicate with one or more Nutanix clusters using the Nutanix REST API. This communication takes place over TCP port 9440 by default.

Here's a high-level overview of the MP architecture:

Accounts and Permissions
The Nutanix devices are discovered in SCOM using SNMP v3 and as such, an SNMP v3 access account needs to be configured on the Nutanix devices to allow communication with your SCOM management servers.

A Run As account needs to be configured with an existing Nutanix Prism user account that has read-only permissions on the Nutanix environment and if you plan on using the Application Awareness feature, then you'll need an additional account with Local Administrator permissions on the virtual machines that host the applications.

One more account is required to use the Application Awareness feature with Citrix, and this account will need XenApp/XenDesktop administrator permissions.

The Comtrade Nutanix MP runs on SCOM 2012, 2012 SP1 and 2012 R2 (no SCOM 2007 R2 support) and the following table shows which Nutanix NOS versions are supported:

This table shows the supported Nutanix Software Editions:

Wish List
After good alert information and detailed dashboard views, I normally place reporting and custom tasks next on my wish list for a new management pack. At this time, the beta version of the Comtrade Nutanix MP that I've tested doesn't have any out-of-box reports or custom tasks available. I've given this feedback to Comtrade and they've confirmed that custom out-of-box reports are in their short-term roadmap and they are also exploring ideas on which tasks can add value in a later release.

Overall, I think this is a really solid management pack (particularly when they add out-of-box reports) and if you or your customers have deployed both Nutanix and SCOM into your environment, then I'd definitely recommend you try this out and see what it can do for you.
The beta program for this MP is now closed and Comtrade have confirmed that it will be Generally Available (GA) on May 10th. Pricing will be based on a per-core model and you can contact Comtrade directly to get a quote once it's available.

A free trial of the MP will be available from here when it GA's next week and it costs nothing to try it out and decide if it adds value to your organization.