Configuring the Windows Azure Alerts Preview Feature
As part of the project I’ve been working on for the last six months to deliver a new public website (hint www.primark.com) using Windows Azure we needed to be able to monitor the site performance and alert on warning and critical thresholds for certain counters. At the start of the project, our intention was to use SCOM (System Center Operations Manager) as the cleanest way to get data out of Windows Azure but by the time we went live two weeks’ ago, Microsoft had made available the Windows Azure Alerts feature preview.
Under normal circumstances, SCOM would’ve been a no brainer decision for us as our operational teams use and rely on SCOM already so they are familiar and comfortable using it however with the website, we had a challenge – the third-party.
Setting up SCOM 2007 R2 to monitor Windows Azure sounds really complicated when you read the TechNet article for it at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/gg276377.aspx however it’s actually pretty simple, something which I’ll cover in a later post on the subject, however as I mentioned, our project involved a third-party development partner who needed to receive the alerts also once we went live. In SCOM, you configure this using an SMTP Subscription to email the alerts raised by the management pack to those who need it, but this would result in our Exchange platform joining the critical path for the monitoring of the website, something which I didn’t want ideally as the architect for the project. Imagine the conversation explaining how you missed a website outage or performance degradation because Exchange was down 😮
Fortunately for me, Microsoft came up trumps with the Windows Azure Alerts preview feature just weeks before I was about to go live with the SCOM management pack configuration for production although I had already configured it for our staging environment by this point.
Windows Azure Alerts allows you to configure SCOM like thresholds and evaluation periods for usage counters and metrics from your Azure services and in turn, generate email alerts for them. This has allowed me to remove Exchange from our critical path for website monitoring because the email alerts are generated directly at source in Windows Azure.
To get started with Windows Azure Alerts, firstly, open your Cloud Service, Web Site, SQL Azure Database or whatever you’d like to monitor in the Windows Azure Management Portal. Once open, select the Monitor tab from the Windows Azure Dashboard.
Once you’re on the Monitor tab, select the monitor that you would like to generate alerts for. If the monitor you want to use is not listed then you need to update, amend or possibly even start the configuration of diagnostics. Look at the MSDN page, Collect Logging Data by Using Windows Azure Diagnostics to get started.
With the monitor highlighted, the contextual bottom navigation now shows an option Add Rule. Click this to open the rule definition wizard.
In this rule, I’m configuring monitoring for high CPU utilization on a Cloud Service. Give the rule a name and a description. These are included in the email alert you are sent in the event that the rule is triggered so make sure that it’s something you or people receiving the alert can relate to. Once entered, click the arrow to go to page two.
On page two as shown above, you configure the conditions for the rule. In the case of CPU usage, I’m going to monitor on CPU usage over 80%. Rules are evaluated over a time period before they breach. This is ideal for CPU and memory counters as it means that you won’t be alerted for momentary peaks in demand due to activity occurring in the service but will be alerted for sustained period of high draw. Here, I am setting the evaluation period to the default option of five minutes.
Under the sub-heading Actions, you define whether a single email address (which could be a distribution list) or all of your Azure administrators and co-administrators receive the email alert from the rule. As we have a number of people such as project deployment engineers and developers accessing Azure and the only people who need to receive the alerts are the operational teams, I elected to enter an email address for a distribution list and not all of the subscription administrators and co-administrators.
The last option is the tick box to enable the rule which is checked by default. Click the success tick button to complete the two step wizard and the rule will be created.
Switching context to the Management Services pane in Azure allows you to see a list of all of the alerts configured for the subscription be they for Web Sites, Cloud Services, SQL Azure Databases or more. Here, I only have one configured but in our production subscription we currently have 10.
There is currently an imposed limit of 10 alert rules per subscription while the feature is in preview. I’ve been meaning to call Microsoft Azure PSS (Premier Support Services) for a week now to see if we can get this limit raised as we would like to create a few additional rules but I haven’t got round to it yet. If I manage to do this, I’ll be sure to let you all know.
So there you have it. How to create email alerts for performance thresholds as you would do with SCOM, directly in Windows Azure removing the need to configure an extra management pack in your SCOM environment and removing critical path dependencies from your internal systems to receive alerts for Windows Azure services. I’m looking forward to this feature coming out of preview and into production service hopefully with a few extra bells and whistles.