While Windows Server 2003 has a number of built-in tools for gathering performance information for both hardware and the operating system's own services. Unfortunately, getting useful and cohesive reports about system performance from these tools can be a real chore. It's one thing to have raw numbers, but another thing entirely to be able to see how they point to a specific problem that needs to be addressed.
Microsoft has recently released a tool called the Microsoft Service Performance Advisor for Windows Server 2003. (It is not supported on Windows Server 2000 or Windows XP, only Windows Server 2003 and higher). The SPA (as it's abbreviated) collects information by polling various system functions—overall CPU activity, process activity, IIS and Active Directory behavior, and so on—and produces a detailed and prioritized report on where crucial bottlenecks in system performance may be. Even if there are no pressing problems with system performance, the SPA can still be used to get a good understanding of what processes are most active on the server and which are using the most of the various types of resources.
The SPA works by using a set of rules (predefined on installation, but user-editable) that describe what data to collect and how to tabulate it. For instance, one such rule governs what the threshold is for the number of context switches per second before issuing a warning about excessive context switching (a symptom of processes spawning too many threads). By default this is 1500, but on a very fast (greater than 3Ghz) or multi-processor system, this number can probably be doubled or even tripled to avoid spurious warnings.
The program collects data for about 100 seconds, but it's also possible to schedule data collection at specific intervals and create multiple reports. The resulting report is broken out with major performance advice first, then device-specific information (CPU, memory, network), then tunable Registry parameters that apply to detected performance problems. This way the administrator will be able to see at a glance what the most immediate and pressing problems are, what their symptoms are (since the problem and its symptoms may not be the same thing!), and how to fix them.
The SPA can be downloaded from Microsoft.
Serdar Yegulalp is the editor of the Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter. Check out his Windows 2000 blog for his latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators – please share your thoughts as well!
This was first published in November 2004