Telecommunications Provider Gains Holistic View of IT Systems for Better Availability
The Belgacom Group provides an array of communications services to customers in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The majority state-owned company combines fixed-line and mobile telephony with Internet and digital television subscription offerings through its numerous subsidiaries and brands.
Belgacom has grown substantially through acquisition in recent years, and its business model continues to evolve. Like many other communications services providers worldwide, it faces the challenge of integrating and monitoring heterogeneous operations and business support system networks. “The difficulty we’ve grappled with is how to gain visibility into all of the different systems and workloads that the business relies on—and do it in the most efficient way possible,” says Serge Berat, Solution Engineer for the Windows Engineering Team at Belgacom.
For several years, the company relied on a number of disparate monitoring tools. In an effort to reduce software-licensing costs and increase IT efficiency, executives ultimately decided to consolidate on a single solution. Over time, they noted that this solution improved proactive monitoring of environments not based on the Windows operating system, including line-of-business systems running the HP-UX or Solaris operating system. However, Berat and others found that it did not offer a complete view of the health of applications running Windows, such as Microsoft Exchange Server.
At the same time, insight into the health and availability of Windows technologies is increasingly important for Belgacom. For example, in addition to relying on Exchange Server for internal use, the company uses the technology to provide cloud-based communications services to customers. “We simply cannot afford to have Exchange Server offline for even a brief period,” says Berat. “The potential impact to the business is too great.”
Moreover, Belgacom must rapidly develop business applications to support the delivery of innovative consumer product bundles and services. Many of these applications use Microsoft SQL Server data management software to access, manage, and store data. “The ability to detect bottlenecks and other potential problems with SQL Server is vital to the performance of a growing number of distributed applications,” says Berat.
The company also uses both VMware ESXi and Windows Server Hyper-V virtualization technologies to provision a total of more than 2,800 virtual machines. This number includes approximately 900 virtual client machines, which the company delivers through VMware View virtual desktop technology. “We’ve made a substantial investment in virtualization technologies to support a variety of functions,” says Berat. The company runs critical line-of-business applications on its virtual servers. And it has deployed virtual desktops to its offshore development teams and in its partner call centers. “If these machines are down, there is a direct, tangible cost in terms of productivity and—potentially—in lost revenue opportunities for the company. It’s imperative that we can keep them running in excellent condition at all times, which means being able to troubleshoot and resolve problems quickly,” says Berat.
The Windows Engineering Team at Belgacom sought to enable proactive monitoring of physical assets running the Windows operating system and to provide a holistic view of the company’s growing virtualized environment. They consulted with IT leaders about supplementing the solution in place with a solution that combined best-of-breed monitoring for Windows environments and the flexibility to provide service management for systems not based on Microsoft technologies.
Belgacom made the decision to implement Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007. The company recently upgraded to System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2. “System Center Operations Manager gives us best-of-breed monitoring for all of our Windows-based systems and applications—both on our physical servers and in our virtualized environment,” says Berat. To manage its VMware environment, Belgacom also deployed the Veeam nworks Management Pack. Built on System Center Operations Manager, the Veeam nworks Management Pack provides comprehensive health monitoring of VMware components through the Operations Manager console, eliminating the need to deploy and maintain a separate monitoring framework for these assets.
In-Depth System Health Monitoring
Initially, the company placed a priority on using System Center Operations Manager 2007 to monitor its Windows-based workloads, including Exchange Server, SQL Server, and Active Directory Domain Services. By importing management packs for these and other Microsoft technologies, the Windows Engineering Team is able to access best practices guidance and specialized tools that are tailored to the way each technology works.
For instance, the Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Management Pack for System Center Operations Manager 2007 includes synthetic transactions, which help to ensure that the Exchange Server application and the hardware it is running on are available and responsive. By clicking through wizard-based setup tools, the team can quickly configure synthetic transactions against a number of targets, including Microsoft Outlook Web Access. The team also uses built-in reporting templates to track the historical performance of Exchange Server against a number of application-specific metrics, such as Mailbox Service Availability.
Single View for Multiple Virtual Environments
Belgacom has virtualized approximately 62 percent of its Windows-based server population. The company is targeting 75 percent virtualization of this environment by the end of 2011. Through the Windows Server Hyper-V Management Pack for System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2, Belgacom gains full visibility into the health and performance of virtual machines running on Hyper-V, including detailed monitoring coverage for Hyper-V hosts.
Administrators can also track all aspects of the VMware environment directly in the Operations Manager console. “With the Veeam nworks solution, we have end-to-end coverage of the hardware, hypervisor, and storage components of our VMware environment,” says Berat. “We can bring all of that information into Operations Manager to get a holistic view of our entire virtualized infrastructure across the different platforms.”
Custom Management Packs
Although the Windows Engineering Team initially focused on monitoring infrastructure systems, they are handling an increasing number of requests from managers throughout the company to create custom management packs to monitor business applications. The Windows Engineering Team at Belgacom uses the tools in the System Center Authoring Console in System Center Operations Manager 2007 to configure the rules, tasks, and other parameters that define the management pack for a given service.
By deploying Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2, Belgacom has gained enhanced visibility into the health of its systems and applications that run on the Windows operating system. In addition, through the integration between System Center Operations Manager and the Veeam nworks Management Pack, the company has improved proactive monitoring of its cross-platform virtualized environment.
Enhanced Service Monitoring of Business-Critical Infrastructure
With System Center Operations Manager, Belgacom is much better able to detect potential problems that could impact the performance of critical infrastructure components. “Before, it was hard to know if an Exchange Server data store was filling up, which could cause it to fail and interrupt email service,” says Berat. “Now, with System Center Operations Manager, we can remediate issues before they escalate into major problems.” This means Belgacom is better equipped to support the need for business continuity as Belgacom adapts to rapidly evolving market conditions. And the company can provide enhanced service levels to customers of its hosted communications offerings.
Greater Flexibility in Meeting Monitoring Requests
Now that Belgacom uses System Center Operations Manager, which provides best-of-breed monitoring for Windows-based services and workloads, it can more efficiently meet monitoring requests from application owners throughout the company. “With our previous solution, it took a considerable amount of time before we could adequately monitor new Microsoft product releases,” says Berat. “Now, because we have instant access to the Microsoft management packs for System Center Operations Manager as soon as they’re available, we can turn on the monitoring right away.”
Simplifies Management of Virtual Assets
Belgacom capitalizes on the integration between System Center Operations Manager and the Veeam nworks Management Pack to optimize management of its virtual infrastructure. Through a single tool, the Windows Engineering Team at Belgacom can monitor all of the components of both of its environments—Windows Server Hyper-V technology and VMware vSphere—including the hardware, hypervisors, virtual machines, and the applications and services running on those instances. “The link between System Center Operations Manager and the Veeam nworks Management Pack gives us the tools to manage physical and virtual assets, including our virtual desktops—all in one place,” says Berat. “Having all of this data centralized in a single view not only saves us time, but it helps us spot potential problems faster so we can take steps to address them. As we expand our virtualized environment, this will become even more critical.”