Windows Server System Insights steers admins from trouble

When a vital infrastructure component or crucial workload goes down, administrators must react quickly to keep the disruption to a minimum. A new feature in Windows Server helps IT admins stay ahead of the curve to avoid these types of stressful situations.

The recent coronavirus outbreak required many in IT to fast-track the deployment of new technologies -- such as video conferencing software -- to accommodate the surge of remote workers and the additional burden on the VPN. In times like these, it helps to have an extra set of eyes of make sure critical infrastructure components, specifically server hardware and the workloads that run on them, aren't lost in the mix.

Windows Server System Insights is one of several new features in the Server 2019 OS designed to give this extra assistance to IT workers. System Insights goes beyond simple monitoring by using machine learning to predict when a resource -- such as drive space on the file server that houses an organization's backup files -- might run dangerously low. Windows Server System Insights also helps IT workers in other ways, such as capacity planning. Over time, the analytics engine can collect enough data to help IT determine whether additional hardware should be acquired to meet future needs based on usage trends.

Windows Server System Insights works in conjunction with the Windows Admin Center to generate dashboards showing the past, present and possible future of a resource. The predictive analytics feature uses data from different sources, such as log files and performance counters, to develop a model that can determine potential problems with workload performance or predict when something more dire might occur.

By default, Windows Server 2019 has four forecasting capabilities in System Insights: CPU capacity, network capacity, total storage consumption and volume consumption. These capabilities use data from the machine to help System Insights generate one of five statuses for each: none, OK, warning, critical and error. Administrators versed in PowerShell scripting can customize the response in Windows Server System Insights to trigger a script if a particular status occurs. For example, if file space on a server becomes low, an admin can configure a script to send a notification to the team responsible for that hardware.

Administrators can use the settings in Windows Admin Center to schedule updates for models, or they can run updates on-demand for more immediate results. Organizations with concerns about data handling should be aware that Microsoft says System Insights does not use Azure for analytics work and handles all processing on servers in the customer's data center.

The following transcript comes from the attached video tutorial by contributor Brien Posey, who explains how to set up and work with Windows Server System Insights.

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Transcript - Windows Server System Insights steers admins from trouble

This video will show you the Windows Admin Center and the System Insights feature.

The Windows Admin Center is a relatively new graphical environment for managing Windows Server, but you can also use it to manage Windows 10 machines as well as your VMs.

Right now, I'm connected to a specific server. If I click on Windows Admin Center, then I'm taken back out to the list of servers I've imported. I'll click on one and then from there click on System Insights in the menu off to the left.

You have to install System Insights before you use it for the first time, so click the Install button and it takes just a few minutes to set up.

Once the installation process finishes, you'll notice we have a list of various capabilities: CPU capacity forecasting, network capacity forecasting, total storage consumption forecasting and volume consumption forecasting.

The System Insights tool monitors your system and then gives you a forecast based on your levels of resource consumption, so let's look at how this works.

I'm going to click on CPU capacity forecasting and go into settings. We can schedule this to run now, but it's set to run at 3 a.m. by default. Ideally, you want to run this when the system isn't under much of a load so you're not disrupting any business processes.

I'm going run this manually now. We're probably not going to have enough data to make a forecast, but let's go ahead and take a look at how this works. Click on CPU capacity forecasting and then click Invoke which gives a message to check back later because there is not enough recent data to make predictions. I'm going to invoke the rest of these capabilities and pick it up here later.

Initially, System Insights didn't have enough data available to make any kind of forecast, but several weeks have passed [and] we have enough data for System Insights to analyze my server's usage and make a resource consumption forecast.

If you look at the status column, you can see that we have green OK icons for each of the various capabilities. That's good news. If you look at the status description, you can see that all the various resources have been forecast to remain within the available capacity.

I'll go ahead and click on CPU capacity forecasting. When I do that, the first thing you'll probably notice is [the] large graph that shows the system resource usage over time. If I scroll down, you can see that initially System Insights wasn't able to make any kind of prediction but over time it collected enough data to make capacity forecasts.

Another thing you'll notice is [that] the capacity forecasts aren't just generated one time. System Insights monitors the server over time so it can see how resource consumption changes with use over an extended period of time. This is something you'll want to check back on from time to time to see just how much of your server's resources are being consumed and what the capacity forecast looks like.

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