Monitoring Windows Server 2008 performance with PAL

For a long time, I’ve been wanting to blog about PAL – the Performance Analysis of Logs tool developed by Clint Huffman. It’s available from Codeplex and it should be part of your standard administrator toolbox!

What is does is very simple but also very powerful: it analyzes a perform counter log and compares it against some well-known thresholds. Out of the box it comes with a threshold file for each major Microsoft server product (Exchange, SharePoint, SQL, …) that you can use to build your counter log. So not only does it analyze your logs, it also suggests the counters you should use and how to interpret them!

The thresholds are based on recommendations from the different product groups and support teams at Microsoft.

The report generated by PAL is really astonishing – as you will see at the end of this post.

To use it with a Windows Server 2008 machine however, you’ll need to do some extra manual steps. Here’s how:

  1. Start PAL
    PAL Wizard
  2. Navigate to the “Threshold file” tab and choose the set of counters you want.
    PAL Wizard
  3. Choose the Export to “Perfmon Template File” button and save the generated html file.
    PAL Wizard
  4. Copy this html file to a Windows Server 2003 machine.
  5. Open perfmon on the Windows Server 2003 machine, go to “Counter Logs”, right-click and choose “New Log Settings From…”.
    PAL Wizard
  6. Point to the html file you copied to create a new counter log. You don’t have to specify any options here if you’re going to use it later on a Windows Server 2008 machine. If you want to analyze this particular 2003 machine, set the options you want and start the trace. Skip to step 10 in this case.
  7. On your Windows Server 2008 machine, issue the following command:
    logman export –n “[name of your counter log]” –xml [filename to export to] –s [2003 machine]
    This will export the counter log from the 2003 machine to a readable xml file for use on the 2008 machine. Do you still follow?
  8. We can now use the generated xml file to create the same counter log on a 2008 machine. Open perfmon, go to “Data Collector Sets”, “User Defined”. Right-click and Choose “New”, “Data Collector Set”.
    PAL Wizard
  9. In the wizard, choose “Create from a template” and point to created xml file.
    PAL Wizard
  10. When created, start and stop the trace as required. If you can, leave it running for some days to have representative results! The resultfile (.blg in Vista, Windows Server 2008 or Windows 7 and .csv in Windows Server 2003 or Windows XP) can be found in the C:PerfLogs directory by default.
  11. Copy the generated output file from your 2008 box to your PAL workstation.
  12. Open PAL again, navigate to the “Counter Log” tab and point to the copied output file. PAL Wizard
  13. To start the analysis, go to the “Execute” tab and go!
    PAL Wizard
    You will be amazed by the results!