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Inaport – Canary in a coal mine

Guest blogger Steve Neil outlines a unique application of Inaport in this post. Steve is an IT Director for Grand Canyon University, based in Phoenix, Arizona. Steve and his team implemented Microsoft CRM 2011, then proceeded to embed it into the information fabric of the organization by using Inaport to move data between the various information repositories and CRM. Their CRM information has rapidly moved to being the portal of choice for students and staff at the University.

Over to Steve.

The title of this post might strike you as strange when the topic is a something so far removed from mining as a data tool, but it really is the best description I can think of to describe a unique function that Inaport fulfills for our enterprise. Let me lay down a little background here – the coal mine – and then I’ll explain how Inaport gives us first alert functionality.

We have hundreds of users using our xRM (eXtensible Relationship Management – X meaning Anything) implementation of CRM 2011. One of the critical functions of CRM 2011we use is to send out automated emails, and track inside CRM replies to those emails. This part of CRM 2011 has occasionally quit functioning in the past. The repercussion of this failure is that a crucial communication link for these hundreds of users and their customers outside of our network was broken, and without a single error message being given, emails were queued up by the hundreds per hour waiting for the CRM Email Router to recover on its own or be restarted by a system administrator. Plus, our very expensive monitoring software seems to be incapable of detecting this kind of problem, and our operations team is way too busy to be able to frequently look for problems of this nature.

So we turned to InaPlex for some help. The question we posed, “Can Inaport be used to create a CRM email and send it?” was answered with a certain YES, which meant we were well on our way to being able to build a CRM active email probing system that looks like this:

  1. An Inaport profile is run every half hour which creates and sends an email from CRM to an email address within our domain.
  2. The Microsoft Exchange server receives the email and auto-replies back to the sending address.
  3. A second Inaport profile is run a few minutes later that checks for the existence of the original email and the auto-reply.
    1. If both are not found, Inaport sends an email to an Exchange distribution list notifying operations staff that the xRM Email system is not functioning properly.
    2. If both emails are found, no message is sent, but it could be if that is the behavior we desired.

Absolutely not a line of code was written, nor were the Inaport profiles particularly complex to create.

Now, back to the canary …

The day after we had this system up and running, the second Inaport profile that is run to check for the existence of the emails did its job and reported that the CRM Email system had malfunctioned. Since it was still within the first 24 hours of operation of this new system, we chose to verify the problem by hand before contacting our operations staff. Sure enough, the CRM Email was not processing incoming emails, and emails were queuing up at a rapid rate. We contacted the operations staff, and while they worked the issue, Inaport continued to work and send an email every half hour that the CRM Email Router system was not functioning properly. 6 hours later, when the operations staff had discovered the problem and rectified it, and the Inaport generated emails stopped! We never touched the Inaport profile or stopped or started a job. It worked perfectly!

We were very pleased that our simplistic email test system had worked so well. And unlike the proverbial and practical canary in the coal mine that gives its life to warn of serious danger, our lInaport canary sings out loud and clear over and over until the CRM Email Router is functioning properly again.

This little Inaport-based CRM Email Router test system was all quiet for several weeks when it detected a different kind of problem. Four times in one day it reported that the outgoing probe had not succeeded. The next day  three same type failures occurred, and reports from users started to trickle in that they were experiencing errors. We looked at the CRM workflow jobs log and also noticed that the occasionally daily error had become a torrent of suspended workflows due to SQL Server errors. We reached out to our operations staff in charge of our hardware and their research showed that the SQL Server 2008 box was reporting lots of hardware level errors. They took corrective action on the hardware and the errors subsided on the various CRM fronts, and the Inaport canary went back to quietly working and waiting for its next chance to sing. Again, we never touched, turned on, turned off, or reset the Inaport profiles – it just performed flawlessly.

All of these troubles spread out over weeks did not raise a peep from our sophisticated and very expensive monitoring software; the little Inaport-based system has proved to be our most accurate and most dependable monitor so far.

We are very impressed with Inaport. That we could use it to build a very simple and reliable monitor of a critical CRM 2011 function, the CRM Email Router, and that it also has been invaluable in migration and integrating data from and to our other applications are just a couple of examples of what a great tool it is. We look forward to making other discoveries of its quality and usefulness.

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