If you thought Steve Ballmer was displaying a bit of bluster when he said that Microsoft was “all in” on cloud computing (www.microsoft.com/presspass/exec/steve/2010/03-04cloud.mspx), then the newly released Microsoft System Center Advisor stands to prove you wrong. System Center Advisor (SCA, for brevity here) is a robust cloud service that lets DBAs inventory all their SQL Server systems and quickly resolve problems or avoid them altogether. SCA collects configuration data from all monitored servers, analyzes the data, and produces alerts and updates identifying potential issues or configuration anti-patterns.

The first release of SCA supports SQL Server configurations and some aspects of Windows Server. Because SCA is a cloud application, your data is available anywhere the cloud is available.

The awesome thing about SCA is that because it integrates with and is frequently updated by Microsoft Customer Service and Support (CSS), it always includes the latest information about the types of configurations that work well or don’t work well. In a sense, SCA lets users crowd-source problem solving. When a significant problem appears for one type of configuration, CSS can notify everyone with the same configuration about the fix rather than simply waiting for end users to call for help when their servers break.

If a problem does exist for a given configuration, SCA provides instant step-by-step guidance for problem solving on SQL Server. In addition, SCA can instantly push configuration information back to Microsoft CSS in case you need to call them.

Features

SCA is composed of three primary components. The on-premises element consists of a monitoring agent per monitored server, which collects server configuration data and analyzes it using rules similar to those found in Microsoft System Center Operations Manager, plus a gateway agent, which uploads the configuration data collected from the monitoring agents. The cloud element is a web service that collects the data from the monitoring agents, displays alerts, and offers guidance for problem resolution. For an illustration of SCA’s general architecture, see “What is System Center Advisor?

The monitoring agent collects data from SQL Server and the SQL Server Agent error logs, the Windows Server event log, SQL OLE DB queries, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) calls, and the Windows Server registry. For a full list of data collected by the monitoring agent, download the System Center Advisor Configuration Data Points spreadsheet.

The on-premises monitoring agent and gateway server can be configured in a variety of ways. In addition, data stored on the web service can be managed in a variety of ways—including actions such as viewing alerts and server configuration, ignoring and reactivating alerts, and creating CSS service requests based on alerts. Figure 1 shows SCA alerts.

Figure 1: Microsoft System Center Advisor alerts

System Requirements

SCA installs an agent to monitor each SQL Server instance and a gateway server to act as an intermediate between the monitored hosts and the web service. SCA requires Windows Server 2008 or later in either 32-bit or 64-bit versions. The SCA agent work on SQL Server 2008 or later and Windows Server 2008 or later. Because SCA is a cloud application, you must access it through Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0 or later or Mozilla Firefox 3.5 or later, with the plug-in for Silverlight 4.0 or later installed. SCA also requires the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1.

Microsoft System Center Advisor
Benefits: System Center Advisor is a robust cloud service that lets DBAs inventory all their SQL Server systems and quickly resolve problems.
System Requirements: Windows Server 2008 or later; SQL Server 2008 or later; Internet Explorer 7.0 or later; Mozilla Firefox 3.5 or later; Silverlight 4.0 or later; Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1
How to Get It: You can download System Center Advisor from www.systemcenteradvisor.com.