Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review of SQL Elements by Idera

Idera SQL Elements Review

I work for a large company which has well over 600 instances of SQL Server installed; we are constantly adding instances to our inventory. Managing our portfolio of instances is a challenge and to help ourselves out we created a series of tables which store server/instance information. Daily an SSIS job and Powershell scripts interrogate the various instances to collect basic information about them, like number/name of databases, disk size, up/down status, backup information, etc. We have been looking for a commercial solution to manage this for us and give us more options for a few years, but unable to find such a product.

Two months ago I was contacted by an Idera sales person who was interested in finding out if I was interested in one of their fine products and while we were talking, I told him what we were looking for in an inventory tool and asked him if they had a tool that would fit our needs. I expected to find out that they didn’t have anything and that what I wanted was a CMDB (configuration management database) solution; however that isn’t what he told me. He told me that Idera was going to debut a new solution called SQL Elements at PASS Summit that would do exactly what we needed and told me to sign up for the Beta program. I was a bit skeptical at first, but I signed up for the Beta program and hoped for the best.

My first impression was a bit of uncertainty, upon signing up for the Beta, I was placed on a wait list until I could be approved, I was afraid this might take a while and so I tried to get as much information off the Idera website as I could about the product. I had limited success finding anything about the product, which I’m sure was because as a beta product they didn’t have as much information to put out, I tried to sign up for a webcast, but had issues with that as well. After only a few days of waiting I was approved for the Beta and given access to the Beta Feedback system.

I dusted off my SQL Server 2012 evaluation VM and installed the product which was very simple. A few short minutes later I had a webpage up which was asking for my login, I found out that the system uses AD credentials to log in and as the person who installed it, mine were pre-setup in the system. I logged in and was given some basic instructions and asked to enter a list of instances to start monitoring. The process was pretty easy, you can enter a list of instances by separating them with a semicolon. Next you are asked for what credentials to use to connect to them. If you used a global AD group or user account on all your instances, this is easy if you setup Elements with that account; it will use the default account. Next you can enter some specific information on the instance, such as Owner, Location, comments and choose to assign a series of tags (I used the following tags: Production, Development, Test, DR). Once you confirm your request, Elements will start investigating the instances and reporting back on health checks and other basic Instance information. Overall the interface is pretty simple. The system has three main sections, a Dashboard view, the Explorer View and the Instance View. The Dashboard is a simple page showing how many of your monitored instances are up/down, Health Check Recommendations, Top Databases by Size, and Environment Statistics.

The Explorer View allows you to gather some information about your environment based on some filters. You can see Instance Count, DB Count, DB Size, Log Size and Activity information all correlated by either Instance, Owner, Location, Version, Database or by a custom Tag. You can filter the results by these last few options as well. So if you only want to see DB Size for Instances in Location X, you can do that.

The Instances View allows you to manage the instances you are monitoring. It allows you to add new instances by typing in the name(s) of the instances, or by seeing SQL Instances Elements has “Discovered” for you. Note that at the time of this writing, it appears that Elements can only detect SQL Server Instances in the subnet that it is installed in; they say they are working on it. The Instance view reports on Status, Response Time, Version, Edition, # of DBs, Size of DBs, Owner (manually entered), Location (manually entered), and if Clustered. The Discovery feature is nice, because it will let you stay up to date on any new instances which have been added to your environment

If you edit an instance, you get a wealth of information about it, like Database Names and Sizes, Max/Min Memory, Configuration Settings, and Server info (Drive sizes, VM, CPUs, Memory, OS, etc).

Under the hood, the database storing all this information is intuitive, the table names make sense, PK/FKs have been created, and a Database Diagram was easy to create. I was able to write a few SSRS reports against it pretty easily, allowing for me to fully utilize the data.

The Beta feedback and support website was very fun to use. You are given a certain number of “Votes” to use when submitting an issue or request. You can vote up other request on the system and by doing this, the developers know what is most important to their users. I found they were fairly responsive to acknowledging my request.

The software is licensed based on how many Instances you want to manage and they have an All you can Eat option, allowing you to license your entire environment and add new instances as they come online for a reasonable price. One important note is that this software only works with Instances of SQL Server which are 2005+, so if you have SQL Server 2000 instances in your environment, you will need to manage them through a separate method.

For companies with a larger SQL Server foot print or with less control on who can install SQL Server, this tool should be very attractive, it does a great job of helping you track your inventory and I’m sure as the product matures it will provide more and more functionality (growth tracking?). If on the other hand you have a smaller environment (< 15 SQL Instances), this may not offer you as much value.

SQL Elements Website
Elements Beta Feedback Site