Keep your network healthy with these five key System Monitor interfaces.
Checking Your Server's Heartbeat
Keep your network healthy with these five key System Monitor interfaces.
- By Harry Brelsford
- November 01, 2000
Speaking from an MCSE consultant's perspective, one of
the great paradoxes of Windows 2000 is how to make a great
living after the install is completed, the pole and drape
comes down and everyone goes home? That is, many MCSE
consultants discover with Windows 2000 that their better
billable hours are behind them after the design, planning
and implementation of the network. In fact, a frustration
that causes some MCSE consultants to leave the business
is the project-by-project workflow of Windows 2000 consulting.
With Windows 2000 consulting, many MCSE consultant live
and die by going from implementation project to implementation
Enter System Monitor to the rescue. If you're an MCSE
consultant, you can use System Monitor to provide on-going
services to clients, which can add real value to the consulting
relationship. (Although that's my focus in this column,
even in-house IT professionals can derive benefit from
Defining System Monitor
Perhaps the first thing you noticed (I certainly did)
about System Monitor is that it's free! System Monitor
is installed as part of the Windows 2000 Server or Windows
2000 Professional basic setup. It certainly wasn't lost
on me that, compared to my NetWare days when I used PERFORMANCE.NLM,
the System Monitor in Windows 2000 is much more powerful.
And it wasn't lost on me that I didn't have to spend several
hundred dollars purchasing a third-party performance monitoring
System Monitor has five distinct faces that it presents
to you: charts, histograms, alerts, logs and reports.
Each of these faces is accessible from a toolbar button
in System Monitor. You typically right-click in the details
pane (the big space to the left) and select New to configure
one of the five faces. These keystrokes are consistent
with the way you configure other Microsoft Management
Console (MMC) snap-ins, so I'll only show you the keystrokes
for creating a chart. (I'll present the four steps for
using System Monitor as an MCSE consultant later in this
No secrets here: The chart view is the traditional real-time
view of System Monitor that everyone thinks about first.
It's good for observing several minutes of real-time data,
much like an Electrocardiogram (ECG) machine used by doctors.
In fact, the chart in Figure 1 appears to look a lot like
an ECG in an intensive care ward-time to pull up the surgeon's
|Figure 1. The traditional chart
view of System Monitor. (Click on image to view larger
The explicit keystrokes for creating a chart are:
- Select Start, Programs, Administrative Tools, Performance
to launch System Monitor.
- Right-click on the Details pane and select Add Counters
from the secondary menu or click the "+" (plus) sign
on the System Monitor toolbar. The Add Counters dialog
- Select the object:counters of your choice to monitor.
Click Add to add an object:counter to the mix.
- Click Close to close the Add Counters dialog box
when you've selected all of the object:counters you
intend to monitor.
- Observe the System Monitor chart. If should look
similar to Figure 1.
Note: You are working with
object:counters in System Monitor. Objects are broad category
areas and counters are specific measurements.
A lesser-known view of System Monitor is the histogram
view (see Figure 2). The histogram view, created by selecting
the Histogram button on the toolbar, shows real-time information
without regard for displaying any recent performance history.
It's a good choice for presenting information more boldly,
say, if you're using an overhead project unit in front
of an audience. At the Windows 2000 launch in February
2000, a Microsoft employee used the histogram view to
show the cluster load balancing capabilities of Windows
2000 Advanced Server. The vertical was bars pipe were
moving up and down like pistons because of the immense
amount of processing occurring during the presentation.
Keep it in mind if you're a presenter.
|Figure 2. Histogram view has
appropriate uses to consider, such as comparisons.
(Click on image to view larger version.)
The histogram view is good for presenting relative relationships.
Figure 2 shows both processors on my Dell PowerEdge 1300
server running Microsoft Small Business Server 2000. At
a glance, I can see the relative load that each processor
Unfortunately, alerts aren't that sophisticated. They're
fine for setting monitoring conditions, such as letting
the Windows 2000 system know when processor utilization
rates rise above 85 percent (see Figure 3), but the notification
system is weak, with no email or paging capabilities.
Basically alerts can make event log entries.
|Figure 3. Configuring an alert.
However, expect vast improvements in alerts under the
forthcoming BackOffice 2000 using Health Monitor 2.1 (I
cover it in my review of BackOffice 2000 in the January
2001 issue of MCP Magazine).
To create an alert, expand the Performance Logs and Alerts
objects in the console pane (left). Select the Alerts
object in the console pane and right-click in the details
pane. Select New Alert Settings from the secondary menu.
Logging is perhaps one of the least sexy yet most useful
parts of System Monitor. Logging allows you to record
data over long periods of time. Viewed over time, you
can spot interesting trends and justify system upgrades,
application enhancements and so on. This is the medical
history of your system that increases in value as time
passes and logs are periodically run again.
|Figure 4. Logging is configured
directly in System Monitor.
|Figure 5. The type of log file
that System Monitor writes.
To create a log, expand the Performance Logs and Alerts
objects in the console pane (left). Select the Counter
Logs object in the console pane and right-click in the
details pane. Select New Log Settings from the secondary
menu. I speak more about the MCSE consulting opportunity
with System Monitor logging at the end of this column.
Last and least is reporting. Arrg. This view attempts
to take histogram and charting information and present
it in a table of columns and rows. It's lame and I won't
show it to you. If you need reporting capabilities, there
are numerous third-party offerings available elsewhere.
Six Steps to Start Using System Monitor
So, how does an MCSE consultant continue to make a buck
in the long run after the Windows 2000 design/planning
and implementation party is over? Just follow these six
steps to financial freedom!
1. Create a baseline
Basically, you set up System Monitor to log for a period
of time, such as a 24-hour period in the middle of the
week. The time interval that log entries are made can
be 900-seconds (15-minutes). This initial baseline measurement,
created via System Monitor logging, is truly the foundation
measurements against what future logging efforts will
be measured. Think of it as your starting medical or dental
records that an MCSE pathologist will use to help determine
cause of server death someday!
2. Log baseline objects
When you log with System Monitor, you log the objects.
All of the counters for that object are logged automatically.
When you analyze the baseline logs, you can specify individual
counters inside an object to view. Consider logging the
following objects to create your baseline (recognizing
that you may add objects to this for specific applications,
such as Microsoft Exchange and ISV applications):
- Logical disk
- Network Segment
- Network Interface
- Physical Disk
- Server Work Queues
3. Analyze the baseline
Performance analysis is where the fun begins. I don't
even have enough room in this column to get into the finer
points of performance analysis other than to point you
to wonderful references and offer the proper perspective.
Performance analysis is the subject of many chapters
in several books available on Windows 2000. In my own
book, Windows 2000 Server Secrets (IDG), I delve
into this matter in Chapter 18. The Windows 2000 Professional
Resource Kit has a section dedicated to performance analysis.
The old Windows NT Server 4.0 in the Enterprise course
set aside a couple of days to this topic. But if you want
to save a buck for now, you can start with the wonderful
Windows 2000 online Help system for more information on
Now the perspective. Performance analysis is only valuable
over time. The logged information you create for your
baseline is a snapshot. The value is in the accumulation
of several months worth of logs, where you can observe
how your system has changed since its baseline measurement
period. This type of thinking continues with the next
4. Add to the baseline
Periodically, you need to run the same logging again,
capturing at least the same objects. I've seen MCSEs pitch
this to their clients as monthly or quarterly services.
It's a service that my clients have gladly paid for in
the past and I suspect will continue to do so.
5. Long-term trend analysis
You've followed the steps and have a library of System
Monitor logs. Now, when you chart specific object:counters
from different logs (note that System Monitor allows you
to stack charts for side-by-side analysis), long-term
trends start to emerge. Here, the idea is to graphically
observe changes in performance-often for the worst-as
new applications are introduced, users added, and so on.
6. Creating a new baseline
As in all research, it's essential that you compare apples
to apples. Thus, if you purchase a new server machine
and retire the old machine, you need to create a new System
Monitor baseline log. You'll then capture additional logs
from that date forward for a new round of performance
analysis. If you upgrade a server and copy a log from
the older server, it's likely you'd see marked performance
improvements, something that might indeed be misleading.
Again, the strategy presented above applies equally well
to in-house MCSE LAN administrators and system engineers
with a slight twist. These people are typically overloaded
with work and are compensated on salary. The in-house
admin, while appreciative of the power of System Monitors,
often doesn't have the time or energy to fully exploit
System Monitor Secrets
So now a few "been there, done that" Windows 2000 System
- System Monitor now runs as a service, not an application.
This allows you to log off of the Windows 2000 machine
running System Monitor without disrupting the logging
- Many BackOffice and ISV applications provide pre-configured
System Monitor templates. These are typically found
on the CD-ROM Disc that accompanies the software and
represents the critical object:counters the developers
feel you should monitor.
- If you're monitoring a Windows 2000 Serve, run System
Monitor from a Windows 2000 Professional machine. If
you run System Monitor on the server, it's likely you
may create some false reads.
- A little known way to look at the data you log in
System Monitor is to use a Web browser such as Internet
Explorer. This is simple to do: In the logging view,
right-click the log file listed in the details pane
of System Monitor and select Save As. Save the log file
as an HTML file and then open the file in a Web browser.
The resulting view in the Web browser (see Figure 6)
isn't just a pretty picture; it's actually a Web-enabled
copy of System Monitor, allowing you to add counters
and so on.
|Figure 6. Nifty trick; view System
Monitor countersthrough your browser.
Next time, I'll show you how to use Network Monitor to
troubleshoot nagging network problems.