Understanding Your Environment With System Shepherd

    System administrators, especially of larger deployments, already have a hard time dealing with the plethora of systems found in the average datacenter. Throw in Cloud Servers scattered among potentially several different providers, and the sysadmin may just turn the fabled Clue Hammer on themselves.

    Rackspace Cloud partner Absolute Performance brings their product System Shepherd into the battle to provide the sysadmin a new weapon to turn the odds in their favor. System Shepherd is a hosted monitoring service targeted at today’s mixed computing environments, improved by Absolute Performance’s work in the space since the late 1990s.

    Monitoring Agent

    At the heart of System Shepherd is their monitoring agent. This small binary (only a few megabytes of resident memory) provides the hooks into the things that you need monitored on your systems and applications. Being an easily-installable agent, it’s well-suited for including in your custom cloud images. Install once, take a snapshot, and your new systems built off of that image will be set up to connect to your monitoring infrastructure.

    One problem that pops up with cloud infrastructure is that servers may be provisioned and removed rapidly to deal with changing loads. As sysadmins monitoring in this space well know, that can lead to an annoying cascade of phantom alerts as monitoring software notices that deleted servers are no longer responding to pings or other monitoring checks. System Shepherd solves this problem by hooking directly into the Rackspace Cloud Servers API to check on the status of your environment. If a server stops responding to the monitoring tests, System Shepherd will query Cloud Servers to query that server. If the server no longer exists in your environment, System Shepherd will note that server as deprovisioned and not alert you. If the server is still provisioned, but not responding, then the alert is sent. Cell phones everywhere breathe a sigh of relief.

    Enterprise Technology Built-In

    While System Shepherd can be used by deployments large and small, it cut its teeth on larger enterprise setups. This means that it has deeper hooks into enterprise technologies built-in. There are agents for databases like MySQL, Oracle, and SQL Server, applications like Exchange or Handysoft Bizflow, core technologies like Apache, Tomcat, and Websphere. Hardware doesn’t need to feel left out, as Cisco, Nortel, F5, Juniper, and Foundry get agents that talk to their hardware. For companies running their own private clouds, VMWare ESX is currently supported, with Xen, Hyper-V, and Parallels Virtuosos coming soon. And of course, there are hooks for pulling data out of the output of shell commands and SNMP. Finally, the agents support current releases of Windows and all major Linux distributions (plus FreeBSD!)

    The Dashboard

    All of this data gets aggregated and displayed in the System Shepherd dashboard. The dashboard features drag-and-drop components (or “gadgets” in the System Shepherd nomenclature) to display the information you want to see in the way you want it organized. The dashboard is also where system-wide configuration is managed, saving the hassle of logging into machine after machine to tune settings. There is also an extensive library of metric templates to get you up and running quickly.

    If you’d like herd your systems into line, contact Absolute Performance and take a look at System Shepherd! They have a number of different offerings, so find the one that works best for your setup.

    Rack Blogger is our catchall blog byline, subbed in when a Racker author moves on, or used when we publish a guest post. You can email Rack Blogger at blog@rackspace.com.


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