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Operations Management Suite brings order to Azure cloud

Microsoft Operations Management Suite tackles Azure and AWS clouds, and multiple hypervisors, all from one console.

Microsoft Operations Management Suite could be viewed as a System Center for any sort of cloud in an enterprise.

The suite can help IT pros manage VMs and servers in Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS). And it can manage Windows Server VMs or ones running any flavor of Linux. For those enterprises with big investments in private clouds, it can manage hypervisors like VMware or OpenStack -- and it can all be done from a single console with a consistent user interface for a program that understands how to work with and manage all of these technologies.

The idea with this suite is to simplify the management of all of these disparate properties and to bring the benefits of cloud services -- new features at a consistently fast pace, available within minutes -- to systems management. The suite itself consists of four core components:

Azure Operational Insights. This service centralizes the collection, storage and analysis of system log data. It uses key insights and machine learning, along with built-in experiences that Microsoft has programmed into the service based on its ability to run millions of servers at cloud scale, to produce actionable items based only on the content of logs.

It will create best practices and configuration tips for Hyper-V, Exchange, SharePoint and SQL workloads; the suite can also identify and troubleshoot problems. IT pros can view data, from an on-premises system and from any infrastructure as a service cloud service, all from one interface. It works with Windows Server and Linux.

Azure Backup. Repackaged with this suite, Azure Backup is an incremental backup service that copies files from your data center, in an encrypted transmission, to cloud storage that is replicated across the globe. It understands SharePoint, Exchange and SQL as well as regular files and folders, in addition to virtual hard disk files.

Azure Site Recovery. This feature automates the replication of physical or virtual machines (VMs), allowing an IT administrator to instantiate a copy of a system within the data center, in a third-party cloud, or in Microsoft Azure in the event things go awry. It is designed to be a flexible, on-demand "second location," which would obviate the need to build out a disaster recovery location.

Azure Site Recovery uses Windows features like Hyper-V replica and also integrates with System Center, SQL Server AlwaysOn, VMware and NetApp, HP, and EMC on the storage side to provide a broad spectrum of fault tolerant options. Additionally, Azure Site Recovery lets IT administrators specify the exact order in which machines will be spun up in recovery, either through a simple interface or through more complex custom PowerShell scripts.

Azure Automation. With Azure Automation, IT administrators can rent Azure CPU cycles to run through custom runbooks and PowerShell scripts to help create, deploy, monitor and maintain Azure services as well as any corporate workloads that run within the Azure environment. There is no need to provision a VM to run management software or fire off scripts. The Azure Automation service runs as a separate service and Azure does the work of provisioning the resources necessary to perform an automation.

Azure Automation works with Azure websites, virtual machines, Azure Storage, SQL Server and more Azure services as well as anything that has a publicly accessible API.

Microsoft Operations Management Suite pricing and availability This suite is available now; each of the four components has a limited free tier that has modest quotas so that IT admins test the capabilities of each service at no charge. Companies can purchase the services included in the whole Operations Management Suite individually.

The Operational Insights model begins at $2.30 per gigabyte, whereas the automatic backup service starts at $5 per VM per month and scales from there. Site Recovery, the more fault tolerant option, starts at $16 per VM per month, and the Automation facility begins at two tenths of a cent per minute.

The Microsoft Operations Management Suite add-on will make the most sense for businesses that have already invested in System Center. This is because it bundles all four services in various quantities in two increments -- one for Standard to correspond with a matching System Center license and one for Datacenter to correspond to the higher end System Center license -- for $430 per year and $2,150 per year, respectively, through December 31, 2015. That represents a discount of almost 57% over purchasing the services separately for both editions.

For businesses with sprawling server real estate and lots of small investments in a variety of cloud providers and platforms, the Operations Management Suite could help bring order to all those results from that heterogeneous soup. It's a cloud service so there is little to install and no contract. For shops where another layer of management could help get the job done, the Operations Management Suite is worth a look.

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