An In-Depth Look at Citrix Monitoring with the New SCOM Management Packs

Until this year, holistic monitoring of Citrix environments had traditionally fallen to third-party vendors such as eG Innovations, Lakeside, and ControlUp. When various Citrix monitoring tools were analyzed in mid-2014, these three vendors’ products were the primary tools reviewed, due to their strong market presence.

But that changed in January of this year when Citrix announced that it had purchased the intellectual property of Comtrade’s Microsoft Systems Center Operations Manager (SCOM) management packs for Citrix products. Prior to this announcement, Comtrade was barely on the radar for Citrix monitoring tools.

As part of the deal, Citrix stated that it would become a Platinum entitlement, and that Comtrade would continue to develop those management packs. In other words, Citrix owns them, but Comtrade enhances them for Citrix.

The key here is that these Citrix management packs are used in conjunction with SCOM. Thus, the prerequisites are:

  • Purchase SCOM
  • Implement SCOM
  • Use SCOM

Although it sounds silly to say that you need to purchase SCOM and implement it to then be able to use the Citrix management packs, it’s a harsh reality. How many IT organizations have purchased and then implemented SCOM, and of those, how many actually use it?

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to ascertain specific numbers, but it is fair to say that only a small percentage of IT organizations fully use SCOM. Those who have had some hands-on time with SCOM know it truly is an all-encompassing behemoth due to its wealth of data and complexity. In the IT world, a behemoth means specialization, and that translates to hiring and maintaining staff who focus on a specific technology. That level of specialization is likely beyond the budgets of small and medium-sized organizations, and thus the intricacy of SCOM may be overkill for their needs.

Comtrade has provided Citrix with management packs that monitor nearly all aspects of a Citrix environment, including XenApp/‌XenDesktop, StoreFront, Licensing, and more. This assumes that the XenApp/‌XenDesktop infrastructure uses all Citrix add-on components, including XenServer as the hypervisor and NetScaler as the gateway. For clients that use another hypervisor, that monitoring is not included within the Citrix management packs.

While the Citrix management packs that are now included with Platinum are beneficial, the value-add is predicated on existing SCOM utilization within the organization. Bottom line is that without SCOM, it is impossible to take advantage of the monitoring benefits provided by the Citrix management packs.

The requirements don’t stop there. To take SCOM one step further, the Citrix administrator(s) must have access to SCOM and understand the importance of specific alerts. For example, a Windows administrator probably wouldn’t understand the severity of a failure of the Broker Service, whereas those familiar with Citrix technologies would know that this is a critical item. And as with any monitoring system, the configuration of pertinent alerts ensures that the important ones are not disregarded as noise.

I spent some hands-on time using the new Citrix management packs for SCOM this week. While I did like the topology feature that color coded issues as red or yellow, I found that the overall system was not as intuitive and friendly as other monitoring solutions. To clarify, much of this was because of the SCOM infrastructure, not due to deficiencies within the management packs that Comtrade developed. Overall, Comtrade has done well with creating the administrative interface and underlying functionality.

A new Citrix administrator may stumble through the SCOM administrative interface, whereas someone very experienced with Citrix technologies would be able to pick through it and get to the desired information. In many ways, this is reminiscent of the old EdgeSight in that there is a tremendous amount of pertinent data, but getting to that data is sometimes clumsy and not intuitive. Again, please keep in mind that Comtrade developed these management packs for the SCOM framework, not an independent one.

However, the golden egg is the ability to integrate the Citrix management packs with Citrix Director, the inherent XenApp/‌XenDesktop monitoring tool; herein lies the benefit and ease of use. By enabling the integration of the SCOM management pack data with Director, you get the the “Wow!” However, the integration requires the execution of several PowerShell commands, rather than an admin interface. The downstream benefit of Director integration includes ease of use and familiarity, particularly for help desk teams.

This raises the question of whether IT organizations will implement SCOM and the Citrix management packs specifically to support Citrix monitoring. Considering the SCOM resource requirements—servers, people, and more—the free Citrix management packs for Platinum customers aren’t all that free if SCOM isn’t already in use. But if SCOM is already deployed and heavily used within your organization, there is certainly value in extending it with the Citrix management packs. And as long as you’re adding the Citrix management packs to your existing SCOM implementation, consider that if you run Nutanix or F5, Comtrade also offers management packs for those technologies.

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