Reveiw of SolarWinds SAM (Server & Application Monitor)

Review of SolarWinds SAMReview of Solarwinds SAM

SolarWinds’ SAM (Server & Application Monitor) is particularly useful for inspecting the services and processes on servers such as SQL or Exchange.

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Topics for SolarWinds SAM

Reasons for Experimenting with Server & Application Monitor

You need to troubleshoot a recurring network or server problem.  It’s the root cause you seek, not just a work-around.  Another reason for evaluating SolarWinds Application Monitor is that you are want to find out more about dependent services, both on the same machine, and how failure of one network server impacts others.

You are curious to comparing your view of what’s going on in your network.  Perhaps you want to take stock of your resources, or set a baseline before making changes.  With SAM’s performance counters you can scrutinize your computer empire.  Guy bets that the dashboards will display an important service that you did not know existed.

The fact that SolarWinds offers a free trial may tip the balance in favor of giving SAM a chance.

Evaluate SAM Application Performance Monitor

New Feature in SAM 6.0:  AppInsight (App Insight)

Solarwinds have introduced a clever way of monitoring instances of SQL databases.  Previously it was difficult to examine granularity on SQL databases, now with an AppInsight dashboard you can examine classic performance bottlenecks, such as indexing, on an instance-by-instance basis.

Footnote: 'Insight' is a useful and clever name for this feature, however, be aware that the letter in the middle of AppInsight is a capital 'I', and not a lower case 'l'. See also SolarWinds AppStack

Installing SolarWinds' SAM

To my way of thinking, easy setup is essential for any software, therefore it constantly surprises me that so many products I test don’t live up to their ‘Easy to Install’ claim.

Well, you will be pleased to know that I place the SAM installer in the in the highest category of intelligent software.  It sets about its business of getting the dashboard up and running with minimal user intervention.  I was impressed the way it overcame such road blocks as, no IIS installed, no SQL available, and lack of .Net Framework.  It simply installed and configured these components for me.

What particularly pleased me was the way the SAM installer mastered my Achilles’ heel, it started with a machine with no SNMP configuration, yet finished the installation with SNMP communities setup, all without asking me hard questions.

In a nutshell, a computer phobic can get SAM running just by clicking a few ‘Next’ buttons, while a computer expert can interact to adjust the configuration to suit their network.

Trivial Install Problems
You probably won’t believe me if I tell you everything about the install was perfect.  Well, I was irritated when SAM asked for an email address half way through the install, but this was an evaluation copy so I guess it’s fair enough; and perhaps I was projecting my own shortcomings, I had forgotten which email address I used when I registered!

The very first logon is always a stressful time.  The initial SAM screen would not accept the logon credentials of my stand-alone Windows 2008 Server’s account(s).  SAM’s saving grace was a message saying, logon with the name of ADMIN and no password – fortunately for my blood pressure this built-in Admin account worked with a blank password.

Footnote: If these were the only problems, then install is not going to give even a beginner any difficulties.

SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor Video

Here is a good way to evaluate SolarWinds' SAM:

SolarWinds offers a free trial of Server and Application MonitorAppraise Solarwinds Server Application Monitor

System Requirements for SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor (SAM)

Software Requirements
The underlying operating system should be Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2008 R2.  (The plain, or original Windows Server 2008 may not work unless Microsoft has fixed a bug.)  SAM is also going to need IIS, SQL, SNMP and .Net framework 3.5.1 or later, but the good news is its installer has built-in routines to find the necessary files, then configure these extra services; the result is SAM setup proceeds without user intervention.

Naturally in a production network you will want to configure SNMP and SQL before you install SAM.

Hardware Requirements
As for hardware, if you are running a Windows Server then SAM has no extra memory or processor requirements.  The amount of free diskspace install needs is trivial, or put it this way, if your server is down to its last 50 MB of free diskspace, then you are in trouble anyway.

Decide Your Initial Approach to SAM

If you’ve glimpsed the interactive SAM demo at SolarWinds site, then you may have extrapolated how its dashboard could be used back at your base, perhaps you can visualize checking the green or red dots of the nodes representing your services.  However, before you reach that state of nirvana, decide which of these goals you want to achieve with SAM.

a) Focused mode:  You have the urgent need to solve a specific server problem.

I should not say this, but the greatest fun for the techie is when something is wrong and you can perform an easy fix with a clever utility.

With SAM you start with a top-level network map and drill down through the red dots to discover more about the symptoms.  My favourite tools are the User Experience Monitors, which assess the Quality of Experience (QoE).  If the performance is lower than expected you can check whether it’s due to a process that’s hogging the CPU, or an application on a server that’s run out of resources.

b) ‘Play mode’:  You just want to evaluate the settings by running this program through its paces.  You are curious to see what SAM has discovered about devices and services on your network.

Where Next?Appraisal of SAM Application Performance Monitor

When I was an IT trainer I often introduced myself by saying my role was to make myself redundant.  Well, I if I have persuaded you to download and install, my job is over, as this is such an intuitive product you can teach yourself the rest.

Two Tips
1) Seek out the Monitor Templates.  Why re-invent the wheel?  Experimenting with different templates will help you understand SAM’s mind-set, researching more templates will complete the picture of what SAM can achieve.

2) Don’t just look at SolarWinds Thwack support forum, but register and ask your questions.  This is one of the best run forums on the internet being both specialist and responsive.  As someone who once flirted with running a forum, I admire how they keep it free from spam.  As an SAM user I admire the way their experts answer the questions – the harder the problem more they seem to relish finding a solution.

See also a Demo of NPM (Network Performance Monitor).

Review of SolarWinds SAM – Supported Systems

Email Review of SAM Application Performance Monitor
Microsoft Exchange 2003, and 2007, 2010
Lotus Domino Servers
BlackBerry Enterprise server
BlackBerry Delivery Confirmation
See also Exchange Monitor

Directory Servers
Microsoft Active Directory
File and directory

Microsoft SQL Server

Network Services
DNS port and query user experience
Cisco Call Manager

General Purpose Monitors
Process monitor (Windows, Linux, Unix)
Nagios script
WMI performance counter
Windows script
Linux/Unix script
Windows service
Windows Event Log
Windows Printer
Microsoft SharePoint

Other Supported Apps
If you don’t see an application that you are interested in don’t worry, you could create your own app, but before you do that I would look in the Thwack forum to see if someone has already beaten you to it!

Drill Downs
It soon becomes second nature to double click on the network maps and drill down through the site level to the server.  From there you can even examine the resource usage of individual devices.  However, you are newbie, this ability to locate problems is awesome and it feels like being at NASA's mission control in Houston Texas. 

The Underlying Polling Technology
SolarWinds SAM ships with a MIB database that covers all common network devices.  However, if you do have a non-standard SAM allows you to create a custom poller to monitor any SNMP-enabled device value that has a MIB.  As with so many of this product's features, you can also adjust how the module collects and reports on the data. 

For those with wireless networks, version v10 now has an integrated Wireless Poller. And for those with VMware, SAM reads host MIB information from each VMware ESX server and its corresponding virtual machines.

Role-based Access Control
Application Performance Monitor (SAM) allows you to fine-tune who sees what information.  Typically, at HQ you want to see everything, but perhaps you want the team at the Boston site to see only their own servers, and not start interfering with the New York operations.

It would probably be over-playing your hand to say to your MD that energy savings will pay for SAM, but nevertheless, controlling the energy consumption of Cisco EnergyWise-enabled network devices will reduce costs, and could be a clincher in persuading the financial director to buy this licensed SolarWinds product.  For the techie it’s just an interesting and worthwhile challenge to reduce energy consumption and keep the server rooms cooler.

Time to Create Baselines

No appraisal of SolarWinds SAM would be complete without a word about baselines.  Indeed, creating baselines of network activity is a good litmus test for a well-run company.  Thus, one unexpected side-effect of using SAM 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 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.

Value for Money in Performance Monitoring

It’s only fair to point out when evaluating 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 SAM.  Actually, my biggest discriminator in determining whether a product is cheap or expensive is the quality of the support staff.  Some people say is expensive, but nobody complains about the troubleshooting skills of SolarWinds’ technical staff.

More good news is that SolarWinds offer of a trial version of SAM 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 SAM 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.

One hidden benefit of 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 investigate LEM.  In addition to analyzing syslogs, anti-virus software and logs from the servers themselves, LEM can also help you achieve IT compliance, for example CISP or FERPA.  Evaluate SolarWinds’ Log & Event Manager (LEM)

Summary:  My Review of SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor

Application Performance Monitor is ideal for troubleshooting network trouble spots.  When I tried he SAM I was surprised how there was to learn about network technologies, fortunately the SAM helped me understand and appreciate how devices communicate.  If you are reviewing performance monitors, then take advantage of SolarWinds offer of a free trial.

Download Solarwinds Server Application Monitor

Full Reviews of the SolarWinds Licensed 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.

Review of SolarWinds NPM   • SolarWinds SAM Review (Apps)   • AppInsight for Exchange

SolarWinds NCM (Configuration)   • Web Performance Monitor  • Performance Monitor

User Device Tracker    • Application Monitor  • Orion SLA Monitor  • SolarWinds IPAM 4   • Home