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I once had a customer contact me who did not understand why he didn’t receive an email notification that one of his storage paths had lost redundancy. He had logged in to his vCenter server and noticed the down host, which had been offline for two days. Although this showed off how well the cluster handled the failure of the host, it was a major point of concern for him because he didn’t know the host had failed. In this case, the customer had not fully configured the alarms in vCenter. This section discusses the process required to set up alarms as well as some common issues encountered.

For starters, you need to configure the mail setting in vCenter Server.

To do this, go to Administration, vCenter Server Settings from the vSphere Client. Next, configure the SMTP server and appropriate sender account, as shown in Figure 3.7.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 Configuring vCenter Email Settings

You need to configure both an SMTP and a sending account. Additionally, you need to ensure your SMTP server can accept relayed messages from your vCenter server.

This is a step that nearly everyone configures during the default install. A common problem, though, is this is where many people stop. By default, vCenter 5 has 54 alarms defined; however, to set up any type of SNMP or email alerting, actions must be individually defined for each alarm.

Defining Actions for Alarms

For most alarms, only three actions can be defined. You may define an action once or multiple times for each alarm, and you may define multiple types of actions for a single alarm. The actions that are available to be configured are as follows.

  • Send a Notification Email
  • Send a Notification Trap
  • Run a Command

Two monitor types, however, have the capability of performing specific actions. The Alarm Type Monitor for Virtual Machines may take the following actions in addition to sending an email, sending an SNMP trap, or running a command:

  • Enter Maintenance Mode
  • Exit Maintenance Mode
  • Enter Standby
  • Exit Standby
  • Reboot Host
  • Shutdown Host

The Alarm Type Monitor for Hosts may take the following actions in addition to the three actions mentioned—sending an email, sending an SNMP trap, or running a command:

  • Power On VM
  • Power Off VM
  • Suspend VM
  • Reset VM
  • Migrate VM
  • Reboot Guest On VM
  • Shutdown Guest On VM

For the following Alarm Type Monitors, the only three actions are to send a notification email, send a notification trap, or run a command:

  • Clusters
  • Datacenters
  • Datastores
  • vSphere Distributed Switches
  • Distributed Port Groups
  • Datastore Clusters
  • vCenter Server

The process for defining actions for alarms is pretty straightforward; however, there are a few things to be aware of.

First, as mentioned, 54 alarms are defined by default. Defining all 54 alarms individually would take a long time and would likely result in a few of them being configured incorrectly due to an occasional keystroke error. Don’t worry, though, because PowerShell can be used to automate the creation of these actions and is discussed shortly.

Second, when you are defining actions, you must define when the action will occur and how often notification will occur for issues that persist. By default, you receive an email notification only when going from a yellow to a red state. There are four configurable options to consider:

  • Green→Yellow
  • Yellow→Red
  • Red→Yellow
  • Yellow→Green

Let’s stop for a moment to talk about which of these four you will want to be notified of. If you are relying on SNMP traps being sent to your existing monitoring software, you may choose to have very little to no email notifications. Many smaller environments do not rely on SNMP notifications or still may require email notifications outside of their existing monitoring solutions. For environments with no other monitoring, it is best to configure all of the default alarms and some additional ones as well. These additional recommendations as well as automating the process are discussed in just a bit.

So you now have defined actions for all of your desired alarms as well as the severity changes you would like to be notified of and the amount of times you would like to be notified if the issue persists. That brings us to another common thing to consider for a new implementation.

We have witnessed some environments that simply forgot to allow the vCenter server to use the mail server as a relay. After all, the vCenter server may be a new addition to an environment and would not have been previously configured to relay email messages from the SMTP server. If you are unsure if the mail server is allowing relay for the host and do not have access to the email server to check, you may try the following:

telnet mailservername.vmware.com 25
helo vmware.com

There is still one more thing to be aware of. Even after all of this, you might find you are not being notified of some issues, for example when storage path redundancy is lost. This is because some triggers are left unset by default, as shown in Figure 3.8. When set to Unset, alarms do not show in vCenter; however, they are sent to email or as SNMP traps if configured. As you can see for the case of lost storage path redundancy, the status for each event is not set.

Figure 3.8

Figure 3.8 Unset vCenter Alarms

The following is a list of the other default alarms that are not set up:

  • Unmanaged workload detected on Storage I/O Control (SIOC)-enabled datastore (this is disabled by default)
  • VMkernel NIC not configured correctly
  • Network uplink redundancy degraded
  • Health Status Changed Alarm
  • License Error
  • Exit Standby Error
  • Migration Error
  • Host Connection Failure
  • Virtual Machine Error
  • Host Error
  • No Compatible Host for Secondary VM
  • Timed Out Starting Secondary VM

Two of the default alarms also are not configurable. These alarms are triggered via the vSphere API and can only be modified as such:

  • Datastore Capability Alarm
  • Thin-Provisioned LUN Capacity Exceeded

When creating actions, you just need to select an SNMP action in addition to or instead of an email notification so that a trap is sent. You may also enable SNMP traps for each individual host if desired. This may be beneficial in the event of a vCenter server outage as the individual hosts themselves will not communicate any status back otherwise.

Considerations for Tweaking Default Alarms

Some of the default alarms may have some notification options that are less than desirable for your environment. For example, you may have an environment that is strictly testing for internal IT staff. You may decide you still want all the alarms but fully accept that the vSphere hosts in question will likely be pegged pretty hard in terms of memory at certain times of the day. After all, this may be older hardware with lesser memory. You still, however, want to know if there is a consistent condition where memory is steady at 95% or greater for 30 minutes or more.

In this case, by default, the Host Memory Usage alarm warning triggers a warning when host memory usage is above 90% for 5 minutes. Also by default, an alert triggers when host memory usage is above 95% for 5 minutes. By setting both values to 5% higher and to lengths of 30 minutes, you do not get repeated alerts for expected high memory conditions, but do get notified when the issue becomes persistent enough where it may warrant finding additional memory for these hosts.

In closing, you can see that there is a lot to consider even when looking specifically at just vCenter alarms. Walking away from this discussion on alarms, remember the following key points:

  • Consider that the alarms can be defined at many levels. Depending on your infrastructure, you might want to define alarms at the vCenter, datacenter, cluster, or individual host level. For that matter, you may also want to get even more granular and enable alarms on specific virtual machines, datastores, datastore clusters, and virtual distributed switches.
  • Consider that triggers may have multiple actions that trigger based on both actions happening or one or the other.
  • Consider how often you want to be notified and of what state changes you would like to be notified. Too many alerts can become just as big of a problem as not enough alerts at times if you begin tuning them out.

Before moving on to the next section, some assistance in setting up these alarms using PowerShell was promised. With just a few modifications, the provided PowerShell script allows you to easily set up all or as many of the default alarms as you would like. Note that you need to configure the alarms mentioned that are not configured by default to your liking for your environment. Although this still leaves some manual configuration, you no longer have to enter an email address for any of the alarms. It is our recommendation that you start by configuring all vCenter alarms and remove alarms that are not necessary for your environment.

You can download this script from http://www.seancrookston.com/set_alarms.ps1 (see Appendix A for a link).

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