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Application Management with NetIQ AppManager Suite

Show how your investment dollars are earning their keep

As budgets are shrinking at the same pace that requirements are growing, there is a squeeze on enterprises to show value for the dollars spent on expensive software and hardware for running applications. It is clear that software such as application servers, while offering more and more features, also costs more and more, and that the accountability factor is fast becoming a priority for information professionals. However, as the complexity of typical systems continues to increase, finding the strategy to optimize bang for the buck grows exponentially in difficulty.

Enter an exploding area of applications that once may have been deemed a luxury, but is now considered paramount for the successful operation of your enterprise.

In this space NetIQ brings to the table the amazingly sophisticated and intricate AppManager Suite. It is a complex tool, but it miraculously layers the complexity of managing large systems. As a result you get an easy learning curve to get you in quick, but the slightly disturbing feeling that you are sitting on top of a Saturn 5 rocket, with the power just waiting to be unleashed.

The NetIQ AppManager Suite is a collection of applications that are used for managing the performance and availability of a number of operating systems and applications. The basic suite is used to manage operating systems such as Windows, Unix, and Linux, and add-on modules are available to monitor Web servers or application servers that aren't included in the base release. The BEA WebLogic module is one of these, but before you can delve into the array of tools provided to monitor WebLogic, you will need to gain familiarity with the main AppManager environment, and with the core user interface - the Operator Console.

Installation
Installing the AppManager Suite is a complicated process but has an excellent, user-friendly, and well-designed installation program that takes most of the pain out of it. Figure 1 shows a screen capture of the first stage.

 

The setup application gives you plenty of options as to which components to install. For the purposes of this review I installed everything, but there are far too many options to go into detail here on all of them.

SQL Server 2000 is required, and you will be asked to provide the passwords as part of the installation.

Running through this process will install the base AppManager Suite, which includes tools to monitor and manage a vast array of applications from IIS to Apache to Oracle to Lotus.

Operation
The AppManager Operator Console is the heart of the management system. It allows you to configure and control the execution of Knowledge Scripts (more on these later) on the systems and applications that you manage. From here you set up your management jobs, configurable to be regular or once-off, and manage the data that is generated by running these jobs.Once it is installed you are presented with a plethora of applications, but the core of the system is the Operator Console, shown in Figure 2.

 

This console can be broken down into the toolbar at the top, the treeview pane along the center left, the Knowledge Script pane along the right, and the events and status list along the bottom.

Knowledge Scripts are the workhorses of the application. They are prepackaged monitoring functions that NetIQ uses to maintain your system. One function of these scripts is to tie AppManager to the computers and applications that you want to manage using the discovery process. Another is to manage the systems and applications themselves. Once resources are discovered, the process of managing the system is as simple as dragging the Script from the Knowledge Script pane and dropping it on the corresponding system or application in the treeview pane.

The list pane at the bottom of the screen is a familiar-looking area where you can check on the status of the jobs that you are running. A job starts when a Knowledge Script is applied to an entity. For example, if you want to stress test your Web server, you would drag the appropriate knowledge script and drop it on the correct icon for your Web server. It is as simple as that.

As tasks run over time, they form a data stream. These will appear on the Graph Data tab on the list pane. You can then drag these onto the Graph Pane (accessible from the View menu) to plot a pretty 3D picture of the appropriate statistics. The visualization tool is very powerful, and very important - as it helps you tweak trouble areas in your system by getting a good look at where and when problems occurred. It's a lot easier than sifting through log files!

Managing BEA WebLogic with NetIQ AppManager
NetIQ AppManager supports all versions of BEA WebLogic after 6.0. The add-on consists of a suite of Knowledge Scripts tailored for managing BEA WebLogic servers.

The suite is incredibly comphrehensive, containing more than 70 Knowledge Scripts tailored specifically for the WebLogic application server.

One thing to note is that AppManager is not a log analyzer tool - it collects the information for you in real time via an agent that is installed on the target server. A nice advantage of this is that you don't have to stop the application server to get a snapshot of where you are performance-wise at any time, nor do you have to worry about losing data as log files expunge older data.

AppManager is designed to manage the server itself (i.e., Apache or IIS). It is not a testing tool for specific applications but a management and monitoring tool for the hardware and the services that run on the hardware. For example, in the case of IIS there exist Knowledge Scripts to manage things like count the ASPRequests or the number of FTPBytes that IIS is handling

BEA WebLogic is a J2EE application server, so it supports many core functionalities described in the J2EE specification. As a result, the suite of Knowledge Scripts provided cater towards J2EE functionality, but not solely so.

For example, BEA WebLogic 8.1 introduced a new Java VM - JRockit - which BEA claims outperforms other virtual machines. Knowledge Scripts written specifically for JRockit allow you to put this claim to the test!

Other entities that have knowledge Scripts available are all forms of EJBs, JDBCConnections, JMS, JTA, transactions, and, of course, the health and status of the app server. Scripts and jobs need not be tied to a single app server and can be spread across clusters.

The Verdict
NetIQ has a great product on their hands. The extensibility aspect makes it a great solution for enterprises with a multitude of different platforms, meaning they don't have to spread their thin budgets even thinner on different performance tools for each platform. In addition, you can create new Knowledge Scripts or modify the existing ones to optimize for your needs.

On the weak side, while their WebLogic tools are very powerful, they are not as user friendly to install as the rest of the application. The instructions with the download tell you that you need to install a patch prior to installing the main WebLogic pack, but the patch isn't part of the download and you have to try your best to find it on NetIQ's Web site. If you aren't a customer, and are simply using the 30-day trial, then most of the online support isn't available to you and sometimes finding the patch or a solution to your problems can be difficult.

If application and platform management are high on your to-do list, you could do a lot worse than to download the 30-day preview and give it a test-drive.

Corporate Information

NetIQ
3553 North First St.
San Jose, California 95134
Phone: 1-408-856-3000
Fax: 1-408-273-0578
Sales: 1 888-323-6768
E-mail: [email protected]
Web: www.netiq.com

Product: www.netiq.com/products/am/default.asp

More Stories By Laurence Moroney

Laurence Moroney is a senior Technology Evangelist at Microsoft and the author of 'Introducing Microsoft Silverlight' as well as several more books on .NET, J2EE, Web Services and Security. Prior to working for Microsoft, his career spanned many different domains, including interoperability and architecture for financial services systems, airports, casinos and professional sports.

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