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Many organizations that have bought into the System Center suite are curious about what is coming down the pike for the next version of the management suite. The good news is that many of the System Center products are in technical previews.
What will you find upon checking out the Operations Manager technical preview? If you dig into the code as it stands now, in late November 2014, what you will find is a product that looks much like SCOM 2012 R2 but with the notable but limited addition of support for machines running the Windows Server 10 beta. There are really no further product improvements that you can see at this time. Additionally, there is no word on when the next beta of SCOM will come out.
To be honest, while the product has a roadmap forward, at this point you can expect System Center Operations Manager "vNext" to focus primarily on hybrid scenarios between on premises deployments and the Microsoft Azure public cloud service.
What is coming with Operations Manager vNext, however, is deep integration and automated monitoring of all of your operations, whether in your server closet or in Azure, through a tight link with a new Azure service called Microsoft Azure Operational Insights.
Microsoft Azure Operational Insights
Azure Operational Insights is, not to put too fine a point on it, SCOM running in the cloud with a greater visibility and breadth of workspace. It is designed for ops teams to dig into problems, get a single pane of glass style view of status and trouble spots and quickly get to the bottom of any problems that arise.
The easiest way to picture Azure Operational Insights (AOI) is to picture a giant log collection and analysis service hosted up in the cloud but with visibility into what you have going on in your on premises servers. AOI has agents and intelligence packs that are installed on your on-premises servers, much like System Center Operations Manager and also in your Azure virtual machine instances and in other platform as a service instances (like Azure Web Sites or hosted databases). These agents collect machine data and logs and deeply integrate with the workloads and software that is installed on the servers or virtual machines you would like to monitor. Their logic and acquisitions are exported back to the AOI service, which compiles the data those agents are reporting and integrates it into an intelligent dashboard that gives you a view of all of your servers and services.
The intelligence packs themselves are written from the ground up by Microsoft, baking in a lot of the knowledge and experience the company has gained from operating millions of servers at what they call "cloud scale." They have run into many problems and the intelligence packs know about them, essentially.
Intriguingly, like with Microsoft Power Query, you can ask Azure Operational Insights a question in natural language or search for popular keywords and terms in order to generate a theory about events on your network or to drill down into more granular detail about what is happening with a certain service or machine.
Interestingly, at this point AOI requires Operations Manager on-premises to monitor servers that are not in the cloud for capacity planning and antimalware purposes. As Microsoft indicates in the documentation for the AOI preview, "data is sent directly to the Operational Insights service in the cloud from the Operations Manager management server." However, the agents themselves can simply be installed raw on on-premises servers to get the configuration assessment, system update assessment, log management, change tracking and SQL assessment features. The SCOM dependency is probably where the majority of SCOM development for vNext will happen.
The Azure Operational Insights service has three tiers now:
- Free, which retains data for up to seven days and has a cap on the amount of data it can receive from agents and intelligence packs per day.
- Standard, which eliminates the data cap per day and retains data for up to three months.
- Premium, which also removes the cap on daily data uploads to the service but has a long retention period, the length of which has not been confirmed at the time of this writing.
I am sure we will see some interesting but not terribly notable improvements to SCOM for purely on-premises operations, but the future clearly lies in the space between -- the hybrid cloud deployment story. Those watching Microsoft lately should not be surprised.