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Citrix SCOM Management Packs provide holistic XenDesktop monitoring

Citrix XenDesktop Platinum customers can now benefit from the company's acquisition of management packs for a key Microsoft infrastructure monitoring tool.

Citrix now supports end-to-end infrastructure monitoring in its XenApp and XenDesktop Platinum editions through improved integration with Microsoft System Center Operations Manager.

Many organizations use Microsoft System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) as a management tool for tracking services, devices and operations across the enterprise. Now Citrix shops can also use SCOM for holistic XenDesktop monitoring.

The Citrix SCOM Management Packs for XenApp and XenDesktop came out in March and are the result of a January acquisition of a set of Citrix-specific management packs developed by Comtrade. Citrix made the technologies available to XenDesktop Platinum edition customers to download for free, providing them with the tools they need to natively integrate their Citrix infrastructure into the SCOM ecosystem.

The catch is that customers need to purchase and implement SCOM separately, which is no small matter on either account. The target audience for this new feature is IT departments that already use SCOM, but want more unified infrastructure monitoring. The other important catch is that XenDesktop Platinum customers need active Subscription Advantage or Software Maintenance licenses.

Citrix has not specified whether it will, at some point, make the Citrix SCOM Management Packs available as a standalone product for customers using other editions, such as XenDesktop Enterprise.

A closer look at SCOM XenDesktop monitoring

SCOM lets IT monitor a wide range of computers, devices, services and applications, all from a single management console. Administrators can check the health, performance and availability of all monitored assets. If SCOM discovers an issue with one of the assets, it can send an alert and provide detailed information to help identify the cause of the problem and come up with possible solutions.

The basic unit of functionality within SCOM is the management group, which consists of one or more management servers, an operational database and a reporting data warehouse.

Finding administrators with a thorough working knowledge of both SCOM and Citrix might be difficult.

The management server provides the tools and services necessary to manage group configurations, communicate with databases and administer agents that run on monitored computers. The operational database stores configuration data and data collected from monitored assets -- the latter for seven days. In contrast, the data warehouse stores all monitoring and alerting data for historical reporting.

SCOM requires that IT install an Operations Manager agent on each monitored computer. The management server distributes configuration information to the agents and then collects monitoring data from them. Agents can generate alerts and carry out instructions from the management server, and they can also calculate the health status of a computer and its assets.

Citrix SCOM Management Pack for XenDesktop

The Comtrade-Citrix management packs extend SCOM's capabilities to include the assets that make up the XenApp and XenDesktop infrastructure. The Citrix SCOM Management Packs actually break down into several individual SCOM management packs covering other products and components such as XenServer, NetScaler, Provisioning Services, StoreFront, Web Interface, CloudBridge and License Server.

The Citrix SCOM Management Packs provide the same health management, performance tracking and alerting IT would expect with any SCOM management pack. In addition, they allow IT to view and analyze a wide range of past and present data. For example, IT can identify slow logins, the number of users connecting to their virtual desktops and applications or the resource usage for each user session.

XenDesktop Platinum customers will also gain insight into operating system health, regardless of where the OS is running. IT can also configure automatic alerts if a machine or session metric hits a specified threshold, or for SCOM to generate reports to address any problems. With the management packs, IT can identify when users are running into issues connecting to their virtual desktops or when events occur that indicate a problem with the back-end infrastructure.

Why does IT need SCOM management packs?

To drive the monitoring process, SCOM relies on management packs that determine what information the agents should collect for specific applications or technologies. The management packs define the type of objects the agents should monitor, which event and performance data to collect and what to do with the information they collect. SCOM management packs also define when to generate alerts or run scripts, all of which the agents carry out and report back to the server.

To use the Citrix SCOM Management Packs, IT must install them on the same machine where the SCOM management server resides. Admins then need to install SCOM agents on each computer that hosts a Citrix Delivery Controller and configure them as SCOM proxies, which enables the agents to relay or forward information from other devices back to the management server.

The management packs also integrate with Citrix Director, a management console for searching and viewing session-level information and performing real-time health monitoring. For example, IT can launch Director from within SCOM session alerts in order to drill into user sessions.

The Citrix-SCOM union

For XenDesktop Platinum customers already using SCOM, the management packs could represent a huge benefit. For many organizations, however, finding administrators with a thorough working knowledge of both SCOM and Citrix might be difficult, and there will likely be some cross-over training.

The big question is whether the SCOM management packs represent enough of an incentive to entice enterprises into paying extra for XenDesktop Platinum. SCOM shops might be tempted, but what about companies that have no existing investment in SCOM or XenDesktop? Would the management packs sway them into adopting both technologies? And what about the smaller organizations for which Platinum and SCOM licensing might be more than they're willing or able to bite off?

Still, for certain, mostly larger organizations, the Citrix SCOM Management Packs could prove valuable tools in providing a centralized location for monitoring all of their hardware and infrastructure.

Given how recently Citrix acquired the management packs from Comtrade, it's too soon to tell whether this strategy will pay off. However, XenDesktop Platinum shops already running SCOM will gain valuable expanded monitoring capabilities for their virtualized computing environments.

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