SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor Review

We use this product for base and application monitoring.

How has it helped my organization?

I work in a space where we manage enterprise monitoring for server infrastructure. Hence, SAM is one the best modules that's capable of doing it.

As a part of base monitoring of server infrastructure, we look at server down, CPU threshold, memory threshold, and disk threshold. In some cases, they might look for hardware health monitoring, as well.

As part of extended monitoring, we monitor the applications and their performance that run on top of these servers. This is where SAM is effective. We create templates (applications) which would further have specific components (monitors).

As mentioned in my previous point, SAM has about 50 component monitors, which include file monitors, URL monitors, user experience monitors, Windows monitors, service monitors, process monitors, and script monitors.

We have the list of all business critical applications and servers in our environment and we have configured monitoring and alerting accordingly. This increases service availability, reduces downtime of devices or apps and, as a result, issues will not go unnoticed and there won't be any business impact or financial loss.

What is most valuable?

Most of the features are helpful. The name of the module itself says "Server and Application Monitor". We use this module extensively for base monitoring and application monitoring. This keeps our infrastructure/service availability intact.

Here are some of the valuable features:

  • Network Sonar Discovery: Discovers the nodes on your network and gets them onto SAM monitoring within no time with simple rules. It saves us the manual effort of adding devices one by one. Discovery can be scheduled, as well, during off hours or the way that you want it to be.
  • Manage Groups: The capability to group appropriate devices gives better visibility of sites, categories, or critical regions. The same can be used to represent a dashboard for higher management.
  • Manage Dependencies: Helps in basic auto-correlation to avoid a flood of alerts from children when a parent is down.
  • Manage Views: You can use this to create custom views for customers, stakeholders, and your internal IT team based on the scope of what they need to view.
  • Customize Menu Bars: You can create your own menu bar on the tool and attach them to specific views.
  • Manage Advanced Alerts: Where you create your alerts, auto-correlation can be done at the alerting level, as well using advanced SQL alerts. SAM alerting, as well, provides advance auto-correlation conditions when you create an alert.
  • Manage Reports: Creation of all kinds of reports for data available on SAM. This can be done using Web Reports or Reporter Writer. You can also schedule the reports accordingly and you can trigger an email to recipients.
  • Component Monitor Wizard: Provides a shortcut and helps you in creating specific component monitors that are required.
  • Manage Templates: Manages all your templates, applications, and components created in your environment. You can also assign nodes to specific templates from these areas. You can create new templates from here.
  • Credentials Library: Lists all the credentials used by SAM in your environment.
  • Unmanage Schedule Utility: Un-manages the nodes or devices during maintenance periods to avoid false or unwanted alerts. This can be scheduled as well.
  • AppInsight for SQL and Exchange: This definitely is a good feature which is bundled with all component monitors to monitor SQL and Exchange space.
  • PerfStack is a great addition and added value that SolarWinds implemented in recent times.
  • Apart from the above mentioned points, we have close to 50 component monitors that SAM provides that cover most of the application monitoring space (file monitors, HTTP/S monitors, user experience monitors, Windows monitors, service monitors, process monitors, script monitors, etc.).
  • Custom Attribute Editor: Used to manage custom attributes in your environment. Custom attributes can play a major role in alerting and reporting. It can also receive SNMP traps and syslog messages from other systems and convert them into a SolarWinds alert.

What needs improvement?

I always thought we should be able to perform all admin activities using the web portal. Over a period of time, SolarWinds has achieved this.

Most of the admin activities can be performed using SolarWinds web portal (such as advanced alerting, web reports, custom attribute editor, report schedulers, etc., which in the past were hosted on the SolarWinds server).

I also thought SolarWinds doesn't provide a service navigator map that would drill down from application layer to node level, with PerfStack in place. Most of these things have been addressed.

PerfStack can be made more effective. I am sure SolarWinds already has a plan for the same in coming versions.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

We have not really had stability issues, but then it doesn't mean SAM would run without any issues. With a proper health check and maintenance plan in place, stability issues would never occur.

  • We should have a regular maintenance schedule in place where SolarWinds servers are rebooted at regularly scheduled intervals. For instance, once a month.
  • A health check of the SolarWinds server should be in place.
  • Unwanted component monitors have to be removed in regular intervals from SAM.
  • Decommissioned nodes have to be deleted from SAM on a regular basis.
  • Unknown monitors/applications have to be addressed on a regular basis. Unknown applications are the ones that would eat up most of your server resources on the SolarWinds server. Such things have to be addressed on a regular basis to keep the instance healthy.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We have never had scalability issues so far. Scalability can be handled by additional pollers, if and when required, to balance the load.

If the numbers are scary, then we can have multiple SAM instances based on geography or region or connectivity and use an EOC (Enterprise Operational Console) on top of it to collate the same.

We can also move the SolarWinds web UI/portal onto a different server when AWS (Additional Web Server) is used in conjunction with SAM.

How are customer service and technical support?

I would give technical support a rating of 9/10. SolarWinds technical support has always been good to us. We have received a great amount of support and accurate information from them for tickets raised so far.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We did have a previous solution. We switched to SolarWinds due to two major reasons. It is cost effective and easy to manage.

Since the tool can be easily managed, we wouldn't have to spend money on training as well.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was pretty easy.

  1. We had to start with base monitoring of our infrastructure which includes server down, CPU threshold, memory threshold, and disk threshold issues.
  2. Once the pre-requisites were in place (SolarWinds Server and the DB server), we went ahead and installed SolarWinds SAM on our environment. This was pretty straightforward and self-explanatory.
  3. We used Network Sonar Discovery to discover the devices and on-boarded the same.
  4. We created generic alerts for the conditions mentioned (server down, CPU threshold, memory threshold and disk threshold issues).The above process hardly took a day's time and our SAM setup was up and running.
  5. We incrementally built our setup, i.e., the application monitoring part (creation of SAM templates).

Please note: SolarWinds also provides a Product Upgrade Advisor for upgrading modules, which is a great add-on. This makes it so simple for new admins to upgrade the modules without any issues. It gives granular data for module upgrades.

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

There are not many tools in the market that can compete with SolarWinds when it comes to pricing and licenses. SolarWinds licensing cost is the best for the features they provide.

Nagios XI, WhatsUpGold, Uptime Software, PRTG, Manage Engine, and SpiceWorks are the other tools that have lower pricing and licensing costs. However, they can't compete with SolarWinds when it comes to the features and functionality that SolarWinds can provide.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

SolarWinds has three main competitor groups:

  • IT teams that don't have professional tools. They use free or open source tools like Nagios that require a lot of work and customization and custom scripts.
  • Low-end tools that are often somewhat less expensive, but offer significantly less functionality. These are great for smaller teams, who often upgrade to SolarWinds as their needs grow. This category includes WhatsUpGold, Uptime Software, PRTG, ManageEngine, and SpiceWorks.
  • Big, complex, monolithic monitoring systems from HPE, CA, VMware (vROps), IBM (Tivoli), Microsoft (SCOM), and BMC which are hard to use, expensive to manage and maintain, and cost millions, but have been in use for years. The effort to move to something better is too big.

SolarWinds offers over 30 products in different categories including virtualization, storage, databases, systems management, network, and security. Each of these products has a set of competitive products.

What other advice do I have?

  • As I mentioned in one of the other points: "Simplicity at its best".
  • SolarWinds is easy to implement and simple to use and manage.
  • As a system admin or network admin, you would just love this tool. It's not complicated and the features available can perform most of the activities that any other tool can.
  • Licensing costs are lower.
  • It provides a great global forum (THWACK), which is a single pit stop for all queries.
  • Customer portal or technical support provides a great amount of help and are they are proactive towards the issues that occur in the system.
  • Bug fixes and new versions (with great features) are released quite frequently. SolarWinds just launched themselves into the cloud as well. It isn't an on-premises tool anymore and can be hosted on the cloud.

Note: We are not using VMware VMAM and SRM in our setup. I work for a big client who is distributed geographically and we have separate teams to handle the infrastructure. My primary role is to only take care of server infrastructure.

We have a separate VMware team who does the job for us in the virtualization space. I have evaluated VMAN in the past and it definitely is a great tool that provides a deep dive into virtualization space. We do manage virtual machines and ESX boxes on a SAM instance, but we do not have an extended module like VMAM to support the same.

I have used STM in the past for storage monitoring. It’s a similar case where we have a separate team for storage and they are using Netcool to manage the traps coming from storage devices. Hence, it is not managed via SolarWinds. It is out of my scope of work in the current role.

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