SolarWinds Netflow Traffic Analyzer Review

Has a lovely graphical interface, it's easy to use, has powerful reporting features, and excellent support


What is our primary use case?

We use SolarWinds as a core tool to monitor our internal infrastructure.

What is most valuable?

In terms of the implementation, we've actually used SAM, the server and application monitoring tools. The network configuration tools are very useful in terms of bulk upgrading switches and infrastructure. Also, the Network Traffic Analyzer was extremely useful to track down errant users soaking up bandwidth.

Quite a lot of our internal investigations are actually using the Network Traffic Analyzer to find out which computers are soaking up the network bandwidth.

What needs improvement?

The biggest problem with SolarWinds is that they've tried to integrate a lot into the core modules. I think it would actually really benefit if they are more focused. It's packing a lot of technology in now, it's very confusing areas in respect to what the product can potentially do. Even though it's split into very specific core modules, there's quite a lot of overlap. I think anybody being dropped in front of SolarWinds for the first time could initially be overwhelmed.

I think it's a very comprehensive product. It could do to even be toned down a bit. It is very powerful. They keep on pushing more and more features and I don't think it's a good thing, because we've noted quite a few stability issues with the product. I'm not saying 100% of it is all SolarWinds really related, but it's doing a lot. It's a very complex product and it's difficult to troubleshoot it when it goes wrong.

The problem is that SolarWinds is trying to bolt in too much and that can leave bugs, which you have to then sort out, leaving the product unstable. SolarWinds needs to try and slow down and improve the stability of the product, as opposed to bringing out more and more features.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using SolarWinds for the last five years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

In terms of our environment, it's reasonably stable but not perfect. The stability can be improved. 

I think that it's really difficult to tell just whether the issues are environmental problems or whether it's SolarWinds itself. Certainly, core modules in SolarWinds would crash. Specifically, SolarWinds information services would crash quite a bit. I was constantly talking to SolarWinds about optimizing the product in order to try it to get it to working better. It's got quite heavy demands in respect to the SQL environments as well. It has got some stability issues, but it may not solely be down to SolarWinds.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We have, in terms of total numbers of nodes, including switches and nodes, perhaps six or 700 switches and nodes.

I think the product is very scalable but it's also very expensive to scale it. You have to pay for multiple steps of the initial implementation cost in order to scale the product. For example, if you spent 50,000 pounds putting in SolarWinds, you can pretty much say that you're going to pay the same in order to put another poller in because it's literally duplicating the environment across multiple pollers. It's quite expensive in order to scale the product.

We've utilized SolarWinds to its maximum for the environment that I've been testing it in. Certainly we've invested in six of the SolarWind's modules, and I don't think that there's anything further which we want to buy at this stage.

If one starts to notice performance issues, then it's worth considering putting in other pollers. And if you put in other pollers, that's really expensive because you effectively duplicate the license costs. It's fairly scalable in terms of up to the limits, the licenses you've purchased but if then you want to go really beyond the limitations of a license and put additional polling stations in, and then it gets expensive.

How are customer service and technical support?

I think their technical support is excellent. It really is very good technical support. I can't fault SolarWinds technical support. It's very, very good.

If you previously used a different solution, which one did you use and why did you switch?

We were previously using Zabbix. We also looked at alternative products such as Nagios, but SolarWinds was actually decided on only because it's got a lovely graphical interface, it's easy to use, has powerful reporting features, and excellent support.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup is fairly straightforward. Once you actually get familiar with what it's doing, it's fairly easy to implement and use. There's not a problem installing it and actually using it, but it's just a complex product.

In terms of actually installing core modules, it took a couple of hours.

To fine tune it, you're probably looking at really a month of operational stats. Because obviously it goes off and it builds baselines, based on the current infrastructure. Then those need looking at and optimizing for the environment it's working in.

What about the implementation team?

We did the implementation ourselves but we took advantage of the Smart Start programs, which are opportunities given by SolarWinds in order to train.

Time to actually fully deploy is quite straightforward. To install all six SolarWinds modules, you could easily do it in one day. Then it's about 30 days to actually build baseline stats and optimize, and then you're going to probably spend really the next six months optimizing the alerts and dashboards.

We could say that everybody, in terms of the team that I was working with, was involved in SolarWinds in some shape or form. In terms of core people looking after the product, perhaps three or four staff members are needed. 

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

There are additional costs if one wishes to purchase other modules or increase the available functionality then you can pay for additional licensing options. It gets very expensive once you actually decide to scale the infrastructure but if you stick actually within the current license limits, which you may be licensed for, then that would be reasonably cost-effective.

What other advice do I have?

My advice to someone considering this solution would be to look on the THWACK forums, which is the SolarWinds community support. It's a user support forum. I'd pose lots of questions on THWACK and I'd take advantage of the 30-day trial as well, which is available for all corporates initially when you want to use a product. You get 30 days free of charge to try out a product without obligations.

SolarWinds is fairly competitive. There are lots of tools and products out there so you really do need to look at what options are actually available before jumping in and going down the SolarWinds route. I think if anybody purchases the SolarWinds route, then they are buying into a solution as opposed to just purchasing a package. Once you put SolarWinds in, you're then tempted to go out and explore other SolarWinds modules and then very, very quickly you become absorbed into the SolarWinds community.

I would rate it an eight out of ten. 

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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