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Comparative Review: SharePoint Management and Diagnostic Tools

A look at four solutions

There are many tools in the marketplace that you can use to monitor Microsoft SharePoint, from free tools to home-grown solutions to comprehensive application suites. With all these choices laid out before you, it can be tough to perform a full-blown comparison of all tools. Therefore, I'll provide my opinion about the various features available in products that I've recently investigated. In this roundup, I'll discuss four products:

  • Idera's SharePoint Diagnostic Manager
  • ManageEngine's Applications Manager 10.3 with the Microsoft Office SharePoint Monitoring add-on
  • Quest Software's Site Administrator for SharePoint
  • AvePoint's DocAve 6

SharePoint Diagnostic Manager

SharePoint Diagnostic Manager aims to deliver SharePoint administrators with a monitoring solution that's ready to go out-of-the-box, providing the information that's crucial to ensure the availability and performance of SharePoint. The metrics used are based on best practices outlined by Microsoft. Diagnostic Manager differs from Microsoft System Center Operations Manager in that only the relevant data that administrators need to keep SharePoint running smoothly is presented, making Diagnostic Manager easy to use from the get-go.

Idera specializes in monitoring SQL Server, which is the backbone of SharePoint, so it puts the company in a strong position to provide the necessary information. Diagnostic Manager pinpoints pages that load slowly (which is the most important performance indicator for end users) and provides historical data for trend analysis and forecasting.

Diagnostic Manager uses an agentless architecture with a data collection service that pulls information from the relevant SharePoint servers and stores it in a SQL Server database that's connected to the Diagnostic Manager console. It can simultaneously monitor multiple SharePoint farms. The primary prerequisite is that the account used to run the collection service must have permission to access the Diagnostic Manager repository, the SharePoint databases, and all SharePoint servers. Diagnostic Manager supports all editions of SharePoint 2010 (including Foundation) and SharePoint 2007. The repository database must be either SQL Server 2005 or 2008. SQL Server Express editions aren't supported.

Diagnostic Manager's home page provides a nice summary of the state of the SharePoint farms, servers, and pages. It includes a common tasks area, summarizes the number of critical alerts and warnings, and provides a list of active alerts. As Figure 1 shows, when you open an alert, you're presented with all the vital information as well as additional information, such as a graphical view of the metric history or relevant information from Idera's knowledge base. Alerts can be filtered by SharePoint farm, server, page, metric, and severity for different time periods, making it easier to find information.

Figure 1: Reviewing alerts in SharePoint Diagnostic Manager
Figure 1: Reviewing alerts in SharePoint Diagnostic Manager 

You can configure Diagnostic Manager to show warning and critical alerts at different thresholds for various metrics. You can also configure an automated response to an alert, such as sending an email, writing to the event log, or generating SNMP traps.

Diagnostic Manager monitors SharePoint servers and processes, providing data on servers' states, active alerts, resource usage, search performance, indexer status, Microsoft Excel calculation performance, and more. When viewing SharePoint information, a Microsoft Office–style ribbon lets you change the view from a dashboard to more detailed information. Some of the views include Performance Monitor–style counters.

Page monitoring is especially important to understand the performance as perceived by end users. Page load time data is collected periodically. Diagnostic Manager can monitor page performance against different web front-end servers if required. Page component analysis shows rendering speed for HTML controls, web parts, and web controls.

In addition to monitoring SharePoint servers, Diagnostic Manager monitors IIS, showing important information such as Active Server Pages (ASP) requests per second and current versus maximum connections. Diagnostic Manager also monitors SQL Server, displaying database size, log file size, and fragmentation.

Diagnostic Manager contains a large collection of reports out-of-the-box to help you diagnosis problems, present capacity planning data to management, and design projects. You can also create your own custom reports.

Diagnostic Manager is an impressive tool that Idera is continuing to develop to provide administrators with more SharePoint-specific information. The UI is well organized, is intuitive, and responds quickly. Despite the huge amount of information available in Diagnostic Manager, it's really easy to focus quickly on what's important and establish the root cause of any problems.


SharePoint Diagnostic Manager
PROS: Comprehensive monitoring of SharePoint's back-end infrastructure; provides the relevant information that SharePoint administrators need
CONS: More high-level SharePoint statistics would be useful
RATING: 4 out of 5
PRICE: $1,995 per server
RECOMMENDATION: SharePoint Diagnostic Manager is a good choice for organizations that need more than just basic information about their SharePoint environments.
CONTACT: Idera • 877-464-3372 or 713-523-4433

Applications Manager with the Microsoft Office SharePoint Monitoring Add-On

Applications Manager uses SharePoint APIs and doesn't connect directly to back-end servers. As a result, the monitoring capabilities of Applications Manager are somewhat limited compared to a fully featured solution such as SharePoint Diagnostic Manager.

Applications Manager has four dashboards, one of which is the Default Dashboard, which Figure 2 shows. It gives an overview of all the services being monitored, including Application Managers' own components (e.g., MySQL, Tomcat). The Infrastructure Snapshot section shows system availability and health, which are graphically displayed with a green or red dot. If there's a red dot, you can drill down to a root-cause analysis window, which shows what the problem is and the root cause.

Figure 2: Reviewing the services being monitored in Application Managers Default Dashboard
Figure 2: Reviewing the services being monitored in Application Manager's Default Dashboard 

Applications Manager can monitor a wide range of different applications and systems, many of which are open source. There are built-in thresholds and anomaly profiles for SharePoint monitoring. Plus, you can create your own. Alarms can be set for when a threshold is exceeded or an anomaly is detected. The Alarms tab lets you drill down for more information about each alert, including a history. You can configure an alert to trigger an action, such as sending an email, sending an SMS message, or restarting a Windows service. You can also configure service level agreements (SLAs), which are displayed graphically so you can easily identify underperforming monitors.

The Microsoft Office SharePoint Monitoring add-on for Applications Manager monitors a relatively small set of metrics for Office search, Excel services, SharePoint services, document conversions, ASP, memory, and the web cache. Although this monitoring will be enough to gather basic information on SharePoint availability and performance, it's probably not sufficient for diagnosing and finding the root causes of complicated problems.

Applications Manager comes in two editions: Standard and Enterprise. The Standard Edition is limited to monitoring 250 applications, whereas the Enterprise Edition comes with additional scalability and failover support. It's very easy to get up and running, but Java must be pre-installed.

Applications Manager 10.3 with the Microsoft Office SharePoint Monitoring Add-On
PROS: Easy to set up and configure; monitors more than just SharePoint
CONS: Limited SharePoint monitoring
RATING: 3 out of 5
PRICE: Pricing starts at $795 for ManageEngine Applications Manager plus a $245 flat fee for the SharePoint add-on
RECOMMENDATION: This solution is best used for situations in which a large number of different applications need to be monitored, but not in any depth.
CONTACT: ManageEngine • 888-720-9500

Site Administrator for SharePoint

Site Administrator for SharePoint's information portal is a little less streamlined than those in the Idera and ManageEngine solutions. The Site Administrator portal focuses on information growth and the number of SharePoint sites, documents, lists, and so on. Site Administrator lets administrators browse SharePoint and gives relevant information on objects, which is useful for capacity planning.

As with Applications Manager, Site Administrator doesn't expose information about the back-end servers that keep SharePoint running. So, while it's possible to create custom reports from Site Administrator's information repository, the data is limited and specific for certain tasks.

Quest purchased a product named Security Explorer, which is now integrated into Site Administrator, for discovering and managing the security of SharePoint objects. The search functionality is very powerful and can be used to discover which users have access to SharePoint documents -- something that would be hard to establish without a specialized tool. It's also possible to perform security maintenance tasks, such as granting, revoking, duplicating, and reassigning user permissions, as Figure 3 shows.

Figure 3: Assigning user permissions in Site Administrator for SharePoint
Figure 3: Assigning user permissions in Site Administrator for SharePoint 

The metrics include information on subsites, lists, and document versions, which are represented numerically and in graphs that show information growth over a configurable time frame. On the metrics screen, objects are ordered showing the biggest on disk first but can be expanded to show more if necessary.

Site Administrator can be set up to monitor multiple SharePoint farms. The HTML interface works fairly quickly, but occasionally the web back-end displayed errors instead of the required content. This was usually rectified by a simple browser page refresh.

Site Administrator for SharePoint
PROS: Ideal for monitoring information growth and managing security
CONS: Limited SharePoint monitoring
RATING: 3 out of 5
PRICE: $2,995
RECOMMENDATION: Site Administrator for SharePoint is suitable for organizations that want to plan for future storage growth and need a SharePoint security management solution.
CONTACT: Quest Software • 800-306-9329 or 949-754-8000

DocAve 6

DocAve integrates a series of SharePoint management applications (i.e., modules) into one portal. In this portal, administrators can perform a range of tasks, including performing backup and restore operations, managing content, optimizing storage, and running infrastructure and usage reports.

Installing the DocAve server component was easy. There's the option to use a built-in database or a SQL Server database. One possible downside to DocAve is that it requires an agent to be installed on SharePoint to collect data. Nevertheless, installing the agent is also easy. When the server component is installed, you're supplied with a passphrase that's needed when you install any agents that will connect to the server. Both agent and server installs make proper prerequisite checks to ensure that the installation will complete successfully.

The server administration software itself is Silverlight-based. If you can live with that, the administrative GUI is cleanly presented in an Office-style ribbon interface, as Figure 4 shows. Despite the tidy interface, I found the GUI less intuitive to use than the GUIs in SharePoint Diagnostic Manager and Applications Manager.

Figure 4: Working in DocAves GUI
Figure 4: Working in DocAve's GUI 

DocAve offers some neat modules, such as Connector, Backup and Restore, and Content Manager. Connector allows users to work with documents hosted on network file shares as if they've been imported into SharePoint. Connector reduces costs by enabling organizations to store data outside of SQL Server databases, which can be expensive to manage.

With the Backup and Restore module, you can back up your SharePoint environment (including all web applications, databases, front-end web elements, and content) and restore it at a farm, database, or granular level. I started by trying the module's Granular Backup feature. I was directed to a window listing a series of necessary steps with links. A simple wizard would have been welcome to avoid the need to constantly refer back to this list. The first step is to create a storage policy. The provided link opens a new window, which frustratingly can't be resized, which might be a restriction of the Silverlight back end. At the top of the window, I had to click again to actually create the storage policy. During the process, DocAve prompted me to create a logical device to use for storing the backup, which was handy. Notwithstanding my gripes, almost all backup software is non-intuitive and requires something of a learning curve.

The Content Manager module provides a Windows Explorer–type interface divided vertically into two panes so you can copy or move content between SharePoint servers. I found that this worked well, although browsing the content tree was a little sluggish. With a large SharePoint site, this might possibly prove to be an exasperating experience. Although the UI animations are slightly irritating, I liked the inclusion of Test buttons, which let you test what you're configuring.

I really liked the storage optimization features in DocAve, especially Connector and Archiver (which moves expired data out of SharePoint to a cheaper storage location). Support for enterprise storage solutions, such as the Dell DX Object Storage Platform and Data Archive's EMC Centera, is included out-of-the-box. Integration with Microsoft Office 365 is a bonus, and DocAve can be used to manage hybrid onsite/cloud SharePoint infrastructures.

There's a comprehensive set of reports built into the product, although without the option to create your own. The DocAve suite packs in so many features that it's impossible to cover them all here, but AvePoint seems to have all bases covered. If you have a large SharePoint installation to manage, I recommend looking at some of the clever modules in this suite.

DocAve 6
PROS: Comprehensive SharePoint management tool; modular solution
CONS: Clunky Silverlight interface
RATING: 4 out of 5
PRICE: $3,995 per web front end (SharePoint Administrator); other components' prices depend on configuration
RECOMMENDATION: DocAve is an extensible platform for all SharePoint needs. If you have a large SharePoint installation to manage, I recommend looking at some of the clever modules in this package.
CONTACT: AvePoint • 800-661-6588 or 201-793-1111

SharePoint Toolset

Before making a decision about which product is best suited to meet your organization's needs, you should look at each one in a lab environment and carry out your own testing. I found SharePoint Diagnostic Manager to be a comprehensive monitoring solution for SharePoint that should meet the needs of even the most complex SharePoint environments. The GUI is pleasant to work with and provides out-of-the-box views of all the information that will be important to SharePoint administrators without the need for understanding what elements of the back-end infrastructure need monitoring.

The SharePoint add-on for Applications Manager is a light-weight solution that can't provide information on SharePoint's SQL Server back-end infrastructure, which makes it unsuitable for larger SharePoint installations. However, Applications Manager is easy to use and monitors a wide array of services that make up the crucial IT infrastructure in an organization.

Site Administrator is a tool that's designed for two specific functions: storage capacity planning and security administration. The pairing of these two functions seems a little odd but might be exactly what some organizations are looking for.

DocAve is a comprehensive and extensible platform for managing SharePoint. Despite my reservations about the Silverlight administration console, it's hard not to be impressed with the range of solutions built into DocAve.

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