"Ain’t it cool?" – Integrating SharePoint and real-time performance data – Part 2

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Hi again

This article is the second half of a pair of articles explaining how I integrated real-time performance data with an SharePoint based IT operational portal, designed around the principle of passive compliance with legislative or organisational controls.

In the first post, I introduced the PI product by OSIsoft, and explained how SQL Reporting services is able to generate reports from more than just SQL Server databases. I demonstrated how I created a report server report from performance data stored in the PI historian via an OLE DB provider for PI, and I also demonstrated how I was able to create a report that accepted a parameter, so that the output of the report could be customised.

I also showed how a SharePoint provides a facility to enter parameter data when using the report viewer web part.

We will now conclude this article by explaining a little about my passively compliant IT portal, and how I was able to enhance it with seamless integration with the real-time performance data stored in the PI historian.

Just to remind you, here is my conceptual diagram in "acoustic Visio" format

The IT portal

This is the really ultra brief explanation of the thinking that went into my IT portal

I spent a lot of time thinking about how critical IT information could be stored in SharePoint to achieve the goals of quick and easy access to information, make tasks like change/configuration management more transparent and efficient, as well as capture knowledge and documentation. I was influenced considerably by ISO17799 as it was called back then, especially in the area of asset management. I liked the use of the term "IT Assets" in ISO17799 and the strong emphasis on ownership and custodianship.

ISO defined asset as "any tangible or intangible thing that has value to an organization". It maintained that "…to achieve and maintain appropriate protection of organizational assets. All assets should be accounted for and have a nominated owner. Owners should be identified for all assets and the responsibility for the maintenance of appropriate controls should be assigned. The implementation of specific controls may be delegated by the owner as appropriate but the owner remains responsible for the proper protection of the assets."

That idea of delegation is that an owner of an asset can delegate the day-to-day management of that asset to a custodian, but the owner still bears ultimate responsibility.

So I developed a portal around this idea, but soon was hit by some constraints due to the broad ISO definition of an asset. Since assets have interdependencies, geeks have a tendency to over-complicate things and product a messy web of interdependencies. After some trial and error, as well as some soul searching I was able to come up with a 3 tier model that worked.

I changed the use of the word "asset", and split it into three broad asset types.

  • Devices (eg Server, SAN, Switch, Router, etc)
  • IT Services (eg Messaging, Databases, IP Network, etc)
  • Information Assets (eg Intranet, Timesheets,
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The main thing to note about this model is to explain the different between an IT Service and an Information Asset. The distinction is in the area of ownership. In the case of an "Information Asset", the ownership of that asset is not IT. IT are a service provider, and by definition the IT view of the world is different to the rest of the organisation. An "IT Service" on the other hand, is always owned by IT and it is the IT services that underpin information assets.

So there is a hierarchical relationship there. You can’t have an information asset without an IT service providing it. Accountabilities are clear also. IT own the service, but are not responsible for the information asset itself – that’s for other areas of the organisation. (an Information Asset can also depend on other information assets as well as many IT services.

While this may sound so obvious that its not worth writing, my experience is that IT department often view information assets and the services providing those assets as one and the same thing.

Devices and Services

So, as an IT department, we provide a variety of services to the organisation. We provide them with an IP network, potentially a voice over IP system, a database subsystem, a backup and recovery service, etc.

It is fairly obvious that each IT service consists of a combination of IT devices (and often other IT services). an IP network is an obvious one and a basic example. The devices that underpin the "IP Network" service are routers, switches and wireless access points.

For devices we need to store information like

  • Serial Number
  • Warranty Details
  • Physical Location
  • Vendor information
  • Passwords
  • Device Type
  • IP Address
  • Change/Configuration Management history
  • IT Services that depend on this device (there is usually more than 1)

For services, we need to store information like

  • Service Owner
  • Service Custodian
  • Service Level Agreement (uptime guarantees, etc)
  • Change/Configuration Management history
  • IT Devices that underpin this service (there is usually more than 1)
  • Dependency relationships with other IT services
  • Information Assets that depend on this IT service

Keen eyed ITIL practitioners will realise that all I am describing here is a SharePoint based CMDB. I have a site template, content types, lists, event handlers and workflows that allow the above information to be managed in SharePoint. Below is three snippets showing sections of the portal, drilling down into the device view by location (click to expand), before showing the actual information about the server "DM01"

image image

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Now the above screen is the one that I am interested in. You may also notice that the page above is a system generated page, based on the list called "IT Devices". I want to add real-time performance data to this screen, so that as well as being able to see asset information about a device, I also want to see its recent performance.

Modifying a system page

I talked about making modifications to system pages in detail in part 3 of my branding using Javascript series. Essentially, a system page is an automatically generated ASPX page that SharePoint creates. Think about what happens each time you add a column to a list or library. The NewForm.aspx, Editform.Aspx and Dispform.aspx are modified as they have to be rebuild to display the new or modified column.

SharePoint makes it a little tricky to edit these pages on account of custom modifications running the risk of breaking things. But as I described in the branding series, using the ToolPaneView hack does the job for us in a safe manner.

So using this hack, I was able to add a report viewer web part to the Dispform.aspx of the "IT devices" list as shown below.

image image

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Finally, we have our report viewer webpart, linked to our report that accesses PI historian data. As you can see below, the report that I created actually is expecting two parameters to be supplied. These parameters will be used to retrieve specific performance data and turn it into a chart.

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Web Part Connection Magic

Now as it stands, the report is pretty much useless to us in the sense that we have to enter parameters to it manually, to get it to actually present us the information that we want. But on the same page as this report is a bunch of interesting information about a particular device, such as its name, IP Address, location and description. Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow pass the device name (or some other device information) to the report web part automatically.

That way, each time you opened up a device entry, the report would retrieve performance information for the device currently being viewed. That would be very, very cool.

Fortunately for us it can be easily done. The report services web part, like many other web parts is connectable. This means that it can accept information from other web parts. This means that it is possible to have the parameters automatically passed to the report! 

Wohoo!

So here is how I am going to do this. I am going to add two new columns to my device list. Each column will be the parameter passed to the report. This way, I can tailor the report being generated on a device by device basis. For example, for a SAN device I might want to report on disk I/O, but a server I might want CPU. If I store the parameter as a column, the report will be able to retrieve whatever performance data I need.

Below shows the device list with the additional two columns added. the columns are called TAGPARAM1 and TAGPARAM2. The next screen below, shows the values I have entered for each column against the device DM01. These values will be passed to the report server report and used to find matching performance data.

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So the next question becomes, how do I now transparently pass these two parameters to the report? We now have the report and the parameters on the same page, but no obvious means to pass the value of TagParam1 and TagParam2 to the report viewer web part.

The answer my friends, is to use a filter web part!

Using the toolpane view hack, we once again edit the view item page for the Device List. We now need to add two additional web parts (because we have two parameters). Below is the web part to add.

image

The result should be a screen looking like the figure below

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Filter web parts are not visible when a page is rendered in the browser. They are instead used to pass data between other web parts. There are various filter web parts that work in different ways. The Page Field filter is capable of passing the value of any column to another web part.

Confused? Check out how I use this web part below…

The screen above shows that the two Page Field filters web parts are not configured. They are prompting you to open the tool pane and configure them. Below is the configuration pane for the page field filter. Can you see how it has enumerated all of the columns for the "IT device" list? In the second and third screen we have chosen TagParam1 for the first page filter and TagParam2 for the second page filter web part.

image image image

Now take a look at the page in edit mode. The page filters now change display to say that they are not connected. All we have done so far is tell the web parts which columns to grab the parameter values from

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Almost Home – Connecting the filters

So now we need to connect each Page Field filter web part to the report viewer web part. This will have the effect of passing to the report viewer web part, the value of TagParam1 and TagParam2. Since these values change from device to device, the report will display unique data for each device.

To to connect each page filter web part you click the edit dropdown for each page filter. From the list of choices, choose "Connections", and it will expand out to the choice of "Send Filter Values To". If you click on this, you will be promoted to send the filter values to the report viewer web part on the page. Since in my example, the report viewer web part requires two parameters, you will be asked to choose which of the two parameters to send the value to.

image image

Repeat this step for both page filter web parts and something amazing happens, we see a performance report on the devices page!! The filter has passed the values of TagParam1 and tagParam2 to the report and it has retrieved the matching data!

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Let’s now save this page and view it in all of its glory! Sweet eh!

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Conclusion (and Touchups)

So let’s step back and look at what we have achieved. We can visit our IT Operations portal, open the devices list and immediately view real-time performance statistics for that device. Since I am using a PI historian, the performance data could have been collected via SNMP, netflow, ping, WMI, Performance Monitor counters, a script or many, many methods. But we do not need to worry about that, we just ask PI for the data that we want and display it using reporting services.

Because the parameters are stored as additional metadata with each device, you have complete control over the data being presented back to SharePoint. You might decide that servers should always return CPU stats, but a storage area network return disk I/O stats. It is all controllable just by the values you enter into the columns being used as report parameters.

The only additional thing that I did was to use my CleverWorkArounds Hide Field Web Part, to subsequently hide the TagParam1 and TagParam2 fields from display, so that when IT staff are looking at the integrated asset and performance data, the ‘behind the scenes’ glue is hidden from them.

So looking at this from a IT portal/compliance point of view, we now have an integrated platform where we can:

  • View device asset information (serial number, purchase date, warranty, physical location)
  • View IT Service information (owners, custodians and SLA’s)
  • View Information Asset information (owners, custodians and SLA’s)
  • Understand the relationships between devices, services and information assets
  • Access standards, procedures and work instructions pertaining to devices, services and information assets
  • Manage change and configuration management for devices, services and information assets
  • Quickly and easily view detailed, real time performance statistics of devices

All in all, not a bad afternoons work really! And not one line of code!

As i said way back at the start of the first article, this started out as a quick idea for a demo and it seems to have a heck of a lot of potential. Of course, I used PI but there is no reason why you can’t use similar techniques in your own IT portals to integrate your operational and performance data into the one place.

I hope that you enjoyed this article and I look forward to feedback.

<Blatant Plug>Want an IT Portal built in passive compliance? Then let’s talk!</Blatant Plug>

cheers

Paul Culmsee

 

 

 

 

OSISoft addendum

Now someone at OSISoft at some point will read this article and wonder why I didn’t write about RTWebparts. Essentially PI has some web parts that can be used to display historian data in SharePoint. There were two reasons why I did not mention them.

  1. To use RTWebparts you have to install a lot of PI components onto your web front end servers. Nothing wrong with that, but with Report Services, those components only need to go onto the report server. For my circumstances and what I had to demonstrate, this was sufficient.
  2. This post was actually not about OSISoft or PI per se. It was used to demonstrate how it is possible to use SharePoint to integrate performance and operational information into one integrated location. In the event that you have PI in your enterprise and want to leverage it with SharePoint, I suggest you contact me about it because we do happen to be very good at it 🙂

 

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"Ain’t it cool?" – Integrating SharePoint and real-time performance data – Part 1

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Hi

This is one of those nerdy posts in the category of "look at me! look at me! look at what I did, isn’t it cool?". Normally application developers write posts like this, demonstrating some cool bit of code they are really proud of. Being only a part-time developer and more of a security/governance/compliance kind of guy, my "aint it cool" post is a little different.

So if you are a non developer and you are already tempted to skip this one, please reconsider. If you are a CIO, IT manager, Infrastructure manager or are simply into ITIL, COBiT or compliance around IT operations in general, this post may have something for you. It offers something for knowledge managers too. Additionally it gives you a teensy tiny glimpse into my own personal manifesto of how you can integrate different types of data to achieve the sort of IT operational excellence that is a step above where you may be now.

Additionally, if you are a Cisco nerd or an infrastructure person who has experience with monitoring, you will also find something potentially useful here.

In this post, I am going to show you how I leveraged three key technologies, along with a dash of best practice methodology to create an IT Portal that I think is cool.

The Premise – "Passive Compliance"

In my career I have filled various IT roles and drunk the kool-aid of most of the vendors, technologies, methodologies and practices. Nowadays I am a product of all of these influences, leaving me slightly bitter and twisted, somewhat of a security nerd, but at the same time fairly pragmatic and always mindful of working to business goals and strategy.

One or the major influences to my current view of the world, was a role working for OSI Software from 2000-2004, via a former subsidiary company called WiredCity. OSISoft develop products in the process control space, and their core product is a data historian called PI. At WiredCity, we took this product out of the process control market and right into the IT enterprise and OSISoft now market this product as "IT Monitor". I’ll talk about PI/IT monitor in detail in a moment, but humour me and just accept my word that it is a hellishly fast number crunching database for storing lots of juicy performance data.

An addition I like to read all the various best practice frameworks and methodologies and I write about them a fair bit. As a result of this interest, I have a SharePoint IT portal template that I have developed over the last couple of years, designed around the guiding principle of passive compliance. That is, by utilising the portal for IT various operational tasks, structured in a certain way, you implicitly address some COBiT/ISO27001 controls as well as leverage ITIL principles. I designed it in such a way that an auditor could take a look at it and it would demonstrate the assurance around IT controls for operational system support. It also had the added benefit of being a powerful addition to disaster recovery strategy. (In the second article, to be published soon, I will describe my IT portal in more detail).

Finally, I have SQL Reporting Services integrated with SharePoint, used to present enterprise data from various databases into the IT Portal – also as part of the principle of passive compliance via business intelligence.

Recently, I was called in to help conduct a demonstration of the aforementioned PI software, so I decided to add PI functionality to my existing "passive compliance" IT portal to integrate asset and control data (like change/configuration management) along with real-time performance data. All in all I was very pleased with the outcome as it was done in a day with pretty impressive effect. I was able to do this with minimal coding, utilising various features of all three of the above applications with a few other components and pretty much wrote no code at all.

Below I have built a conceptual diagram of the solution. Unfortunately I don’t have Visio installed, but I found a great freeware alternative 😉

Image0003

I know, there is a lot to take in here (click to enlarge), but if you look in the center of the diagram, you will see a mock up of a SharePoint display. All of the other components drawn around it combine to produce that display. I’ll now talk about the main combination, PI and SQL Reporting Services.

A slice of PI

Okay so let’s explain PI because I think most people have a handle on SharePoint :-).

To the right is the terminator looking at data from a PI historian showing power flow in California. So this product is not a lightweight at all. It’s heritage lies in this sort of critical industrial monitoring.

Just to get the disclaimers out of the way, I do not work for OSISoft anymore nor are they even aware of this post. Just so hard-core geeks don’t flame me and call me a weenie, let me just say that I love RRDTool and SmokePing and prefer Zabbix over Nagios. Does that make me cool enough to make comment on this topic now? 🙂  

Like RRDTool, PI is a data historian, designed and optimised for time-series data.

"Data historian? Is that like a database of some kind?", you may ask. The answer is yes, but its not a relational database like SQL Server or Oracle. Instead, it is a "real-time, time series" data store. The English translation of that definition, is that PI is extremely efficient at storing time based performance data.

"So what, you can store that in SQL Server, mySQL or Oracle", I hear you say. Yes you most certainly can. But PI was designed from the ground up for this kind of data, whereas relational databases are not. As a result, PI is blisteringly fast and efficient. Pulling say, 3 months of data that was collected at 15 second intervals would literally take seconds to do, with no loss of fidelity, even going back months.

As an example, let’s say you needed to monitor CPU usage of a critical server. PI could collect this data periodically, save it into the historian for later view/review/reporting or analysis. Getting data into the historian can be performed a number of ways. OSISoft have written ‘interfaces’ to allow collection of data from sources such as SNMP, WMI, TCP-Response, Windows Performance Monitor counters, Netflow and many others.

The main point is that once the data is inside the historian, it really doesn’t matter whether the data was collected via SNMP, Performance Monitor, a custom script, etc. All historian data can now be viewed, compared, analysed and reported via a variety of tools in a consistent fashion.

SQL Reporting Services

For those of you not aware, Reporting Services has been part of SQL Server since SQL 2000 and allows for fairly easy generation of reports out of SQL databases. More recently, Microsoft updated SQL Server 2005 with tight integration with SharePoint. Now when creating a report server report, it is "published" to SharePoint in a similar manner to the publishing of InfoPath forms.

Creating reports is performed via two ways, but I am only going to discuss the Visual Studio method. Using Visual Studio, you are able to design a tailored report, consisting of tables and charts. An example of a SQL Reporting Services Report in visual studio is below. (from MSDN)

 

The interesting thing about SQL Reporting services is that it can pull data from data sources other than SQL Server databases. Data sources include Oracle, Web Services, ODBC and OLE-DB. Depending on your data source, reports can be parameterised (did I just make up a new word? 🙂 ). This is particularly important to SharePoint as you will soon see. It essentially means that you can feed your report values that customise the output of that report. In doing so, reports can be written and published once, yet be flexible in the sort of data that is returned.

Below is a basic example:

Here is a basic SQL statement that retrieves three fields from a data table called "picomp2". Those fields are "Tag", "Time" and "Value". This example selects values only where "Time" is between 12-1pm on July 28th and where "tag" contains the string "MYSERVER"

SELECT    "tag", "time", "value"
FROM      picomp2
WHERE     (tag LIKE '%MYSERVER%') AND ("time" >= '7/28/2008 12:00:00 PM') AND ("time" <= '7/28/2008 1:00:00 PM')

Now what if we wanted to make the value for TAG flexible? So instead of "MYSERVER", use the string "DISK" or "PROCESSOR". Fortunately for most data sources, SQL Reporting Services allows you to pass parameters into the SQL. Thus, consider this modified version of the above SQL statement.

SELECT    "tag", "time", "value"
FROM      picomp2
WHERE     (tag LIKE '%' + ? + '%') AND ("time" >= '7/28/2008 12:00:00 PM') AND ("time" <= '7/28/2008 1:00:00 PM') 

Look carefully at the WHERE clause in the above line. Instead of specifying %MYSERVER%, I have modified it to %?%. The question mark has special meaning. It means that you will be prompted to specify the string to be added to the SQL on the fly. Below I illustrate the sequence using three screenshots. The first screenshot shows the above SQL inside a visual studio report project. Clicking the exclamation mark will execute this SQL.

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Immediately we get asked to fill out the parameter as shown below. (I have added the string "DISK")

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Clicking OK, and the SQL will now be executed against the datasource, with the matching results returned as shown below. Note the all data returned contains the word "disk" in the name. (I have scrubbed identifiable information to protect the innocent).

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Reporting Services and SharePoint Integration

Now we get to the important bit. As mentioned earlier, SharePoint and SQL Reporting Services are now tightly integrated. I am not going to explain this integration in detail, but what I am going to show you is how a parameterised query like the example above is handled in SharePoint.

In short, if you want to display a Reporting Services report in SharePoint, you use a web part called the "SQL Server Reporting Services Report Viewer"

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After dropping this webpart onto a SharePoint page, you pick the report to display, and if it happens to be a parameterised report, you see a screen that looks something like the following.

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Notice anything interesting? The webpart recognises that the report requires a parameter and asks for you to enter it. As you will see in the second article, this is very useful indeed! But first let’s get reporting services talking to the PI historian.

Fun with OLEDB

So, I have described (albeit extremely briefly) enough information about PI and Reporting services. I mentioned earlier that PI is not a relational database, but a time series database. This didn’t stop OSISoft from writing an OLEDB provider 🙂

Thus it is possible to get SQL reporting services to query PI using SQL syntax. In fact the SQL example that I showed in the previous section was actually querying the PI historian.

To get reporting services to be able to talk to PI, I need to create a report server Data Source as shown below. When selecting the data source type, I choose OLE DB from the list. The subsequent screen allows you to pick the specific OLEDB provider for PI from the list.

image image

Now I won’t go into the complete details of completing the configuration of the PI OLE DB provider, as my point here is to demonstrate the core principle of using OLE DB to allow SQL Reporting Services to query a non-relational data store.

Once the data source had been configured and tested (see the test button in the above screenshot), I was able to then create my SQL query and then design a report layout. Here is the sample SQL again.

SELECT    "tag", "time", "value"
FROM      picomp2
WHERE     (tag LIKE '%' + ? + '%') AND ("time" >= '7/28/2008 12:00:00 PM') AND ("time" <= '7/28/2008 1:00:00 PM') 

As I previously explained, this SQL statement contains a parameter, which is passed to the report when it is run, thereby providing the ability to generate a dynamic report.

Using Visual Studio I created a new report and added a chart from the toolbox. Once again the purpose of this post is not to teach how to create a report layout, but below is a screenshot to illustrate the report layout being designed. You will see that I have previewed my design and it has displayed a textbox (top left) allowing the parameter to be entered for the report to be run. The report has pulled the relevant data from the PI historian and rendered it in a nice chart that I created.

image

Conclusion

Right! I think that’s about enough for now. To sum up this first post, we talked a little about my IT portal and the principle of "passive compliance". We examined OSISoft’s PI software and how it can be used to monitor your enterprise infrastructure. We then took a dive into SQL Reporting services and I illustrated how we can access PI historian data via OLE DB.

In the second and final post, I will introduce my IT Portal template in a brief overview, and will then demonstrate how I was able to integrate PI data into my IT portal to combine IT asset data with real-time performance metrics with no code 🙂

I hope that you found this post useful. Look out for the second half soon where this will all come together nicely

cheers

Paul

 

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