Review of SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM)
Network Performance Monitor (NPM) is what I call the 'big tackle'. I like its ability to zoom into network trouble spots, and I appreciate the comprehensive range of check that it manages.
If you are appraising performance monitors, then I suggest you download a free trial of NPM v10.4
Topics for SolarWinds NPM v10.4
The first thing that Network Performance Monitor does is scour your environment for computer equipment that it can measure. NPM is designed to find all the devices supplied by leading hardware vendors such as Cisco.
Once the Solarwinds network monitoring software connects to the device it reports factors such packet loss, latency, discards, CPU, and memory for either SNMP or and WMI-enabled devices.
I am not the fastest installer, but it only took me an hour to get the Network Performance Monitor working. For me, the most fun was configuring intelligent alerting.
Remember, you can always get support from SolarWinds' experts starting with the Thwack forum.
NPM is geared to detecting network outages caused by broken links and faulty equipment. Because it produces network-centric views, it's intuitive to navigate and easy to evaluate what's working and what's not. Perhaps the best feature of this network monitor is the way it suggests solutions. Moreover, if problems arise out of the blue, then you can configure NPM to notify members of your team what's changed and how to fix it.
Once the NPM v10.4 setup is complete then it's time to enjoy the monitoring. I should not say this, but the greatest fun for a techie is when something is wrong, but you can fix it easily. With Orion NPM you start with a top-level network map and drill down through the red dots to discover more about the symptoms. The cause of the outage could be a broken physical link, a server that's offline, or an application on a server that's run out of resources. Try it now!
By using SolarWinds NPM you will avoid amateur mistakes such as blaming the network for latency problems, when it's really an application on a server that is underlying cause. On a big network a sub-contractor may have changed a router at a distant site, or they patched a server, only for the upgrade to cause a new far-reaching glitch. Orion will help you detect and cure such problems.
Perhaps your company wiz-kid introduced a new VoIP or wireless network, but did not realize the consequences for the rest of the corporate network? Again NPM will soon troubleshoot the root cause, and more than likely suggest solutions.
Often the most frustrating problems are those that appear only sporadically. For these annoying intermittent challenges SolarWinds has an analyzer with retrospective network-analysis capabilities. This historical data enables you to quickly isolate and resolve the irregular network problem.
Summary: NPM will discover the worst performing device on your network.
NPM Top 10 Lists
I really enjoy customizing the lists so that network monitoring works in just the way that I want.
The Underlying Polling Technology
For those with wireless networks, version 10 now has an integrated Wireless Poller. And for those with VMware, NPM reads host MIB information from each VMware ESX server and its corresponding virtual machines.
Role-based Access Control
Time to Create Baselines
Creating baselines of network activity is a good litmus tests of a well run company. Thus, one unexpected side-effect of using Orion NPM is that the techies could have more time on their hands! As a manager you can take advantage by commissioning them to show you baseline charts. The trouble with fire-fighting is that you are never quite sure what is normal. By having a 'feel' for the network backed up by stats for off-peak usage, you can soon pin-point abnormalities. As a result you can either prevent latency problems, or else cure them quickly before the users realize there is something not quite right.
To support this pro-active approach to network management Orion provides reports which are both comprehensive and interesting for the techie. One common side-effect of baseline analysis is that ideas for improvements leap out of the charts, for example, load-balancing servers - one of my favourite 'cost nothing' tactics.
Here is a good way to evaluate SolarWinds' NPM:
Review of NPM 10.4
In this release the Solarwinds team have listened to user feedback and incorporated these five features that so many have requested:
Please note that SolarWinds are using your thwack posts as examples because they're publicly available for us to point to, but they're not the sole determiner of release content prioritization. We know you can't access our minds or our internal feature tracking systems, but if you could, you'd see we also take into account all the great feedback you've given us in 1:1 interviews, feature requests submissions, beta posts, through our support organization, etc. to help us decide what goes into each release.
So, regardless of which method you prefer to provide us your feedback, please keep it coming! SolarWinds are absolutely listening. Join the NPM Thwack forum.
It's only fair to point out when reviewing SolarWinds performance monitors is that the full package represents a big investment. Indeed, there are cheaper performance monitoring packages, but they don't have the data collection and storage capacity of Orion NPM v10.4. Actually, my biggest discriminator in determining whether a product is cheap or expensive is the quality of the support staff. Some people say Orion is expensive, but nobody complains about the troubleshooting skills of Orion's technical staff.
More good news is that SolarWinds offer of a trial version of NPM v10.4 so that you can see if this performance monitor really would save you money in the long run. Another way of reducing costs is to select only the NPM modules that you need. Once you see the benefits, particularly if you are trying to track multiple sites, then it's easy to justifying adding more options later.
There are cheaper alternatives to each Orion module, but one hidden benefit of Orion is that all the modules integrate with each other, which makes it so much easier for reporting and root cause analysis. Also most rival products don't supply the level of detail that you get by drilling down through the network maps.
Log & Event Manager (LEM)
If you are looking for an application that can provide automatic reaction to events, then check-out another of SolarWinds' apps namely the Log & Event Manager. In addition to analyzing logs from routers, anti-virus software and Windows logs on the servers, LEM can also help you achieve IT compliance. Review SolarWinds LEM
Summary: Review of SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor
NPM is ideal for discovering network trouble spots. When I tested the NPM I was surprised how much there was to learn about network technologies, fortunately the SolarWinds performance monitor helped me understand an appreciate how devices communicate. In a nutshell NPM helps you detect problems before they develop into a full-scale company-wide outage.
It took me 90 minutes to setup NPM, however, most experts take less than an hour to get started. How long will it take you?
Full Reviews of the SolarWinds Licenced Family of Applications
Here are Guy's comprehensive evaluations, comments and recommendations for SolarWinds licensed products. Each application offers a 30 day trial of a fully functional program, so check out the download links provided.