What is most valuable?
The two most important features are SNMP monitoring capabilities and the beautiful web interface. SNMP is all about being able to access devices, it's a must have, and every monitoring tool will have these features. Not all monitoring tools will have a beautiful graphical user interface that includes charts and graphs and reports. It's very, very easy to read and work with. This is important because we are all humans, and we want nice things. We want nice gadgets and the people who are actually using SolarWinds are engineers. They are all humans, as well, so they want nice things.
It may sound trivial and pathetic, but it's really important. One tool can do a hundred times better than the other, but if the presentation layer lacks this beauty, then people just won't use it. They will be lost and they won't use it and they won't appreciate the complete power of the tool. The elegance and the way it's implemented is very important. It's very, very important from the elegance perspective alone, not just from a usability perspective.
How has it helped my organization?
There are multiple examples of how SolarWinds improves how the company functions. The most obvious is that the engineers are much more willing to keep an eye on network health and to work with the dashboards. That leads to faster resolution of problems and better communication between the teams. Instead of explaining and spending a lot of time, they can simply send the link to SolarWinds and directly access what they need.
Additionally, there is the flexibility to automate or semi-automate functions completely. As a result, we don't need as many people as before when we were working on the reactive side of things. If our service desk had five people before, now we have none. Infrastructure engineers handle most service desk functions, such as ad-hoc or BAU tasks. But we don't need dedicated service desk people anymore.
I work for multiple clients, so I'm just giving examples from them. Some clients do need to maintain service desk functionality as a business function. SolarWinds certainly helps to reduce the workload on the front end at level one and level two escalation. Clients have much more free time to focus on the things they like doing and leaving all the mundane tasks to SolarWinds to sort out. It's a definitely time saver. I love everything about SolarWinds.
For how long have I used the solution?
We have been using SolarWinds NPM for about three years.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
We have not had any problems with stability. I think the way it's implemented it's pretty robust. I started to use SolarWinds three years ago; not from the beginning 15 years ago. So, I don't know what it was like then. From my experience over the past three years, it has been a fairly stable system. Often, clients underspec the platform and SolarWinds requires quite a lot of resources, especially on the database and on the disk-use side, and it needs to be planned. Some customers simply get a box, install all the modules in one box and then complain that SolarWinds is slow. It's not SolarWinds. It's an underspec'd platform.
Some clients think, "Oh, it's all SolarWinds' problem. SolarWinds doesn't perform well." When I come to consult them, we quite easily find that it's the server struggling and not SolarWinds.
The bottom line is this: I am a SolarWinds expert. I know what I'm doing. They are not experts in SolarWinds. From their perspective, what they see straightaway is SolarWinds is not performing well and it can mislead them to think that it is SolarWinds when it's not.
Again, to summarize, I don't think SolarWinds has any performance issues or problems if correctly planned. Go through the documentation and make sure your environment meets the recommended minimums.
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
The most important point I'll make is that SolarWinds markets its product as an out-of-the-box, click-click-click, do-it-yourself solution. It may work like that for very small organizations, although very small organizations will probably go for Nagios or other free tools. For larger enterprises, this is not the case. Just clicking next, next, next to discover nodes, and everything just works, is not the case. It appears to be working, but when you go beyond that and start to understand how the workflow operates, how people respond to alerts, who receives them, who is not receiving them, how to manage thresholds and many other issues, they all add to a much larger picture. That then becomes a not-out-of-the-box solution.
To work with it properly, you need to have extensive skills and knowledge around the SolarWinds product. I'm not saying that you need to be a geek who knows coding and APIs. But you do need to be well aware of what's possible. That helps you set up SolarWinds the way the client wants. Once it's set up, running and maintaining it takes pretty much no time. It functions almost on automation. This is why I think there's still a huge need for consultancy work. Organizations need experts to deploy SolarWinds and to help them to define exactly what they need. Then the organization can manage themselves. They just need to be properly trained.
Many times I have seen SolarWinds installed and then it would sit for years doing nothing simply because the people there don't know what to do and there's no time for anyone to actually to dig in and make a masterpiece out of it. It probably shouldn't be advertised as an out-of-the-box solution.
SolarWinds has scalability solutions and it's completely extendable and expandable and the licensing model is just beautiful. I love it. It can be as cheap as a few thousand pounds, which is very affordable to smaller organizations. It can also be as expensive as tens of thousands of pounds, which is still very, very cheap even for enterprises and bigger organizations. If you compare it to other solutions, it's at least 10 times cheaper. The scalability models are beautiful and there are no problems whatsoever handling a large amount of work. If you need more nodes, you can always add more servers and expand your platform with an additional poller. There's always a way to manage it.
How are customer service and technical support?
Technical support is probably 8/10. Sometimes they tend to respond a little bit slower than I would want, but it's not unusual. If you want something, you want it now and that doesn't always happen. Sometimes I need to wait a few hours or even a few days. Sometimes I need to chase them a couple times. Other than that, the level of skills and the support I receive to actually solve the problem is next-to-none. It's probably a 10. I'm giving it an eight just because of the response time, but other than that it's really good.
However, the sales team at SolarWinds is extremely aggressive and I would give it probably a 1/10. It's very interesting that these different teams are working in the same company. The support is so wonderful, and I know a lot of product managers there. I know them personally and they've been in London and we've talked. They're all techie so they're all great guys. When it comes to sales, they are very, very aggressive. I keep receiving calls and they keep pushing and they keep offering discounts. I don't need those discounts. Just give me my time, you know? When I'm ready with a decision, I'm ready. The way I see it, I'm an engineer and I'm doing the solutions. Aggressive sales is not good. It can be frustrating.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
I tried different alternatives, but I was never really able to set up other tools the way I wanted. I consider myself a very creative person; an artist so to speak. I come up with something in my brain, I like it, I make a note and then I try to implement it. Very often, with other tools, I was just stuck. I wouldn't be able to do this and that and then I would be coming up with my own bespoke solutions, using my own bespoke scripts. I'm doing them manually and sending manually.
With SolarWinds, everything just works. It's not that SolarWinds has everything I need. It's that SolarWinds gives me enough power to implement everything I need. It's a proper platform. I don't think about it as a tool. When I have an idea and SolarWinds doesn't provide it, I implement it. I write a script or a SQL script or VB, or PowerShell, or whatever. Then I simply attach it to SolarWinds and voila, suddenly SolarWinds is actually is giving me the output that I need; drawing charts and graphs and generating reports and it all works. Then, in a click, I can apply the same monitoring to hundreds and hundreds of nodes, which is awesome.
When working with clients, I tend to compare my experience working with different monitoring platforms to SolarWinds. Without really going too deep in understanding how things are done there and here, they just say, "Oh, you know what? We want SolarWinds." I'd say, "That's fine, so let's do SolarWinds."
How was the initial setup?
I’m doing initial setups all the time. As a consultant, I go from client to client on a regular basis. The setup is by far the easiest setup of any software that I know. Not only monitoring software, but any software. Even installing Microsoft Office is more complex than SolarWinds. It is really, really easy and straightforward. The wizard provides many guides and notes. The deployment is so well tested and structured that I literally click through the wizard.
Out-of-the-box, it works beautifully. But when it comes to the logic and company workflow, that's when I need to add a bit of a creativity.
What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?
I'm not doing sales and marketing, so I'm not really trying to sell the product. Usually, they have already done their thinking and decided to purchase SolarWinds. Then they call me to implement it. I evaluate what they currently have in the infrastructure in terms of devices and interfaces and the whole network structure. I make sure that whatever they have matches what they need. If it's too much, most of the time they say, "Okay, so we overestimated." I'm like, "That's fine. Let's just be more rather than less." Sometimes they purchase unlimited licenses when they don't really need them. Often they purchase too little and we simply go and purchase a license, which is a fairly easy process. The customer portals are all managed very well.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
New clients will sometimes ask, "Okay, so let's run through today's simulation, let's see how it works and then we will make a decision." They know I'm going to install it and then they'll evaluate it and find that they're happy. For me personally, I know SolarWinds is releasing new, major releases at least once, maybe twice, a year. I'm on the forum watching all the new features and releases, and adding my own input. I'm pretty much in the know about what's going to happen next, and I'm always anticipating starting working with new features. I don't go and explore anymore; I already know what's in there.
Obviously, the actual process of testing is very fulfilling, as well, especially after we've been communicating on the forum and suddenly it's all live and working. The forum is the number one place I go for my information.
What other advice do I have?
I would advise to get a consultant, at least short-term. I have found that companies, especially big ones, and even some small ones, don't need a SolarWinds expert on site all the time. It's too expensive and unnecessary. At some point, the expert will just sit and do nothing. I think it's absolutely proper to get someone at least for a month, maybe two or three. They can then advise you to pick the right product, choose the right tools, implement it in the right way, and to set up the workflow alerts to make sure it's working.
It seems like the sales team has a slight disconnect from the presales guys. It all works well, but as I said, the sales team sells a product. They do not actually help deploy and implement workflows. They expect the company themselves to deploy and set up their own workflows and then to rely on the documentation and the forum. In reality, they just don't have time. They have their own functions and responsibilities and SolarWinds is a new project for them. It's a huge stretch to learn something new. You know that. It's human nature. That's why my advice is to get a consultant.