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.

Azure Cloud Service Monitor

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.

Azure Cloud Service Add Rule

With the monitor highlighted, the contextual bottom navigation now shows an option Add Rule. Click this to open the rule definition wizard.

Azure Alert Define Rule

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.

Azure Alert Define Conditions

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.

Azure Management Services View Alerts

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.

Configuring Plain Text Email Delivery

For a project at work I documented how to force Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 and 2007 to delivery emails to a mailbox in Plain Text format even if the sender sent the message as HTML or RTF. This is highly useful for server-side email ingestion processes which do not support HTML or RTF.

I have re-produced the document in a global audience format, and I have made it available for download on my Windows SkyDrive account.

Please feel free to use this document for your own personal means, and if you have any feedback then please let me know.

Response to My Digital Economy Bill Email

At the time of the Digital Economy Bill being passed, I emailed my local MP Maria Miller who is now the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Basingstoke.

I emailed her for two reasons. One was to express my disapproval that she failed to attend parliament on that day to vote for or against the bill – Although she did vote strongly against revealing MP’s expenses information earlier in the year. Secondly because I wanted to voice my concerns over the bill.

Here is her response to me today which ironically got flagged as spam by my mail server:

Dear Mr Green,

Thank you for your recent correspondence concerning the Digital Economy Bill. I share your concern about the way this piece of legislation has been handled by the Government. Since the Dissolution of Parliament, there are no longer any MPs, but I can continue with casework/correspondence.

The Bill contained important provisions regarding the regulatory environment for the digital and creative industries. It is completely unacceptable that the Government failed to allocate the sufficient time in the House of Commons for proper legislative scrutiny. It is wrong to push through these issues and because of this I did not support the Bill and I abstained from the vote.

The reason that I did not vote against the Bill is that a number of the measures within it have great merit – particularly tackling online copyright infringement. This is an extremely serious issue that costs the creative industries hundreds of millions of pounds each year. I want to make sure that Britain has the most favourable intellectual property framework in the world for innovators, digital content creators and high tech businesses.

Also, the measures in the Bill designed to tackle illegal peer to peer file sharing set up a proportionate regime that would, only following public consultation, repeated warnings and due process, lead to people having their internet connection temporarily suspended. It will not, as many have suggested, lead to people being disconnected without an appeal. Even if people are disconnected they will be able to sign up to another ISP immediately without penalty.

However, the Government should not push through such significant issues without proper debate – the handling of this Bill means that the debate on copyright is not over and my Party will seek to revisit options for a balanced solution as part of a broader update of copyright following the General Election.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact me.

With best wishes,

Maria Miller, Parliamentary Candidate

(Sent on her behalf by Lynn Fox, Secretary)

 

I’m not going to bother voicing my opinion to this email response because I’ve actually already made my opinions quite clear through over postings etc, however I read this article on TorrentFreak yesterday regarding a report produced in the US Government Accountability Office which is available from http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-423.

The report in summary states that “Lack of data hinders efforts to quantify impacts of counterfeiting and piracy,” however it then goes on to point out the following that “For instance, companies may experience increased revenues due to the sales of merchandise that are based on movie characters whose popularity is enhanced by sales of pirated movies.”

So is the Digital Economy Bill really going to help anything and is it in actual fact going to further hurt the economy because people procuring these downloads now aren’t going to buy the associated merchandise?