What is most valuable?
I find there to be three areas in which this suite provides significant value.
It integrates well as an ‘everything’ tool. We all understand the concept of “jack of all trades, master of none”, but SolarWinds tends to cover 80-95% of everything across every module they have. This means that if I have vendor A for product A and vendor B for product B, there’s a pretty good chance they can integrate it with the rest of their suite.
For example, they have a network monitoring (NPM) core module that integrates with SAM (Server and Application Monitor) and NTA (Netflow Traffic Analyzer). This gives you a very good first view of an environment. It’s very analogous to SCOM in how complete it is with Microsoft products, but with none of the limitations. For example, SCOM doesn’t handle network equipment very well.
With just three modules, I can monitor server performance (whether it’s a VM, in the cloud, or an on-premises server. They can all:
- Be monitored as if they are on-premise
- Handle syslogs/traps/logs
- Monitor most applications out-of-the-box with a lot of flexibility
- See who sends traffic to whom via NTA.
All of this tends to display on a single page for each node that I choose to monitor. Every tool tends to build on one another and SolarWinds does tend to highlight where the tools integrate and how.
With staff that has some technical knowledge, this tool is pretty intuitive out-of-the-box. Getting people to look at it may be one thing, but getting those that are at least at a helpdesk level of knowledge serves to take them very little time to orient, if the tool is set up properly.
They have a THWACK support forum that is incredibly useful. I remember the days of trying to search for Microsoft problems and running into support forum posts that range from "useless" to “actually something that would harm your environment” with an extremely high noise ratio.
With THWACK, the developers will often reply directly in the forums with helpful replies. The community is also extremely helpful and fairly loyal. I’d consider it to be more like how I imagine that the Splunk community functions.
How has it helped my organization?
In a more recent example, we rely on this tool to let us know when a site is about to go down, before it does so.
We do this by monitoring when interfaces drop (multiple connections to a site) or when interfaces have received errors. Both typically occur before a site goes down entirely. It has helped us a ton to actually be proactive and not simply wait for customers to call.
What needs improvement?
I feel there are two areas of improvement. One of which SolarWinds employees will probably roll their eyes about and the other one that maybe they didn’t realize:
- If they’re going for a “cover everything” approach, then they need to do so and enable a bit more of the "cover everything approach" within every one of the tools.
- For example, if you don’t have the storage module, you won’t be able to even do the basic monitoring (interface, memory, CPU, etc.) for a NetApp device that you can do for other device types that are covered in other modules. Install SRM and suddenly it works, like magic!
- I’m OK with the concept of “you have to pay for the storage monitoring if you want to do storage monitoring”, but this becomes an issue in certain areas depending on what modules you license. This is also something that people may run into the hard way if they didn’t realize that this was the case.
- Some of the older components are in need of updating, which is something they’re focusing on more and more. But there are some areas where new tools work this way and old tools work that way. Some of these have gone away little by little, like classic report writer (which was on the server itself requiring RDP) and the old “advanced alert manager” which required the same. In today’s environment, having to RDP to the server just to do things that you’d do on the front end doesn’t quite make sense. There are some that still exist, though they are lacking some modern features.
For how long have I used the solution?
I have used SolarWinds for almost five years.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
There are a few things to watch out for regarding stability. All of them are basic administration issues. For example:
- Do run configuration wizard after EVERY single module update
- Do not give every user of the tool view rights and report rights, etc., where people are going to be messing with everyone else’s views and reports (or creating reports that kill the DB).
- Do create custom views so that people aren’t seeing everything and stressing the web client, etc.
In older module versions, there were issues where upgrading from module version A to module version B could sometimes carry over old things that had a performance impact on the app servers themselves. But these days, you can blow away the install and do a clean one to fix that.
On new installs, as of the latest few releases, they upgrade everything for you and/or have smart installers to make this significantly easier.
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
Scalability is something that isn’t quite straightforward for new admins. But, you can either:
- Install an additional poling engine on a second server for more scalability
- Install an additional polling engine on the PRIMARY app server for more scalability (stacking)
How are customer service and technical support?
I rate technical support everywhere from poor to great. Lately, it’s been getting better and better. But in the past, it was very hit or miss.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
I’ve used SCOM and CA before. We switched off of both because they were awful. CA cost a boatload and had a very limited feature set.
SCOM requires too many people to be dedicated to SCOM to be of actual use.
Plus, the aforementioned scope limitations and the requirement of having to go through *every* monitoring pack with every affected group in detail, takes up way too much time.
How was the initial setup?
The initial installation is super simple. Pretty much you install SQL on one server, the app on another, and then you’re done.
What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?
I’d suggest that people be aware that licensing has tiers. Sales will negotiate on new product purchases as well as upgrades. Also, remember you can always run a 30 day trial of any tool you want to consider without committing any money.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
We’ve evaluated PRTG, CA, SCOM, and Splunk.
What other advice do I have?
It’s a super easy tool to use, but you need to make sure you have a plan for what you want to do with it.