Product Review: SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor
Network monitoring is a critical part of any IT company’s software set, allowing businesses of all sizes to figure out how to maximize their network resources. Therefore, choosing the right tool for this application is an important decision. Enter the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM), an award-winning product made by a company that itself has won many awards over the last decade, including being placed 19th on Forbes’ 2015 Innovative Growth companies. The critically acclaimed NPM software just released version 12 on June 8th. This review is based on the NPM 12.0 Release Candidate 2, which was the most recent available version of the product at the time of this writing.[Related: Download Free Network Performance Monitor v12]
“Availability of network and server resources are absolutely critical. If the network goes down or servers and applications are not available, then revenue is lost. Since we implemented SolarWinds we have seen improvements in availability and reductions in time-to-resolution. We are able to rectify problems much faster, before users start complaining.” – Systems engineer Michael Low
The SolarWinds NPM solution has a number of features that aren’t new to version 12, and these are worth mentioning. NPM is a comprehensive network monitoring product, delivering real-time information and analysis for routers, servers, switches, and more. NPM is designed to be a one-stop solution for both performance monitoring and fault analysis. It also has a reporting feature that enables the creation and scheduling of custom automated reports. And, while it is a buzzword, NPM is very scalable, allowing for anywhere from 50 to over 100,000 elements in the network – though the maximum number of elements is dependent on which version of NPM is purchased.
NPM also has an intelligent alerts feature that allows users to create many different kinds of network alerts, testing for multiple conditions if desired. Alerts can be configured with different combinations of events and times, and sent to recipients through any of multiple methods. Besides customizable alerts, NPM comes with “hundreds” of pre-loaded alerts in its system, according to the SolarWinds support website.
Two particular features for SolarWinds NPM will be newly introduced in version 12; these are called “NetPath” and “Network Insight”, the latter of which will be used for F5 BIG-IP environments. Let’s start with NetPath first. This feature, according to SolarWinds, “uses advanced probing to detect the network path from a source computer to a destination service, even when traceroute can’t.” NetPath allows for improved troubleshooting of delivery failures by automatically probing the network paths and mapping them to the related infrastructure. Such paths include details on nodes and connections, and may include multiple potential paths, as in the example screenshot below (courtesy of SolarWinds).
The other major new feature in version 12 is the Network Insight tool, for F5 BIG-IP product monitoring. This tool is intended to provide a comprehensive, single-console view of the F5 application delivery controller environment. This will make more sense with a screenshot, like the one below from SolarWinds.
The idea here is that each member has a health monitor indicator, allowing for easy spotting of trouble areas. (While the “single pane of glass” tactic is one that does have some critics, it can also help identify problem areas very quickly in larger networks.) The Network Insight tool has an additional benefit of providing a nice visualization of the F5 BIG-IP load balancing environment. Those are the two largest benefits of this tool, but more details can be found on SolarWinds’ web page dedicated to Network Insight.
For reference, NPM system requirements are listed below. For the most part, the required operating systems and databases are identical to those in previous NPM versions; a few Windows offerings from 2008 or 2003 have had their support removed in version 12.
If SolarWinds NPM has all these features – and it has even more besides the ones I’ve listed – why would any corporate executive seek a different network monitoring solution? Why do some companies choose one of the other worthy competing products – such as LogicMonitor the PRTG Network Monitor – to meet their network analysis needs? Well, this depends in part on the size of the company in question. SolarWinds NPM seems to work best with small business who do not demand large amounts of connections in their network. Part of this is due to the price structure – SolarWinds offering starts at $2,895 for up to 100 network elements, but can go up to $30,395 for the highest product level. Also, if several thousand network elements are included, it may be necessary to purchase an extra polling engine. An additional problem from past versions of the software is a lack of group-based policy-driven monitoring, although version 12 should help with that as well. But ultimately, there really isn’t that much to critique for SolarWinds NPM; version 12 is a feature-rich offering that represents the best SolarWinds NPM software to date. In particular, the new Network Insight tool should allow for much improved monitoring of F5 BIG-IP load balancers, one feature that could put SolarWinds ahead of the competition for those companies who own those load balancers.