Product Review: SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor Version 12.0
Product: SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor Version 12.0
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The Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor is now in its 12th version. Although I have had the opportunity to work with some of the previous versions, I wanted to take a look at version 12 and see how it compares to its predecessors.
My experiences with previous versions of Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor have been mostly positive, and to the best of my knowledge Solarwinds hasn’t removed any features. That being the case, I want to focus my attention on the new features and capabilities rather than discussing capabilities that existed in previous versions.
Whenever I review a product, I like to try to work through the installation and configuration process without the aid of the documentation. That way, I can get a feel for how easy or difficult the software is to set up. In this particular case, the deployment process couldn’t have been easier. Solarwinds provides a completely effortless express deployment option, and I had the software up and running in no time.
I also really like the way that Solarwinds handles the initial configuration process. Upon logging into the Orion Web Console for the first time, I was presented with a network discovery wizard, which you can see in Figure A. This wizard walked me through the configuration process.
Figure A: Solarwinds uses a wizard for the initial network discovery.
The initial configuration and discovery process proved to be very easy. The software walked me through the process every step of the way. I especially appreciated the fact that each of the wizard’s screens explained my options in plain English. The software didn’t make me guess as to whether or not I was doing things correctly.
The User Interface
Once the software was up and running, one of the first things that I noticed was that Solarwinds has improved the user interface. Like other Solarwinds products, Network Performance Monitor still uses the Orion console, but the console has a much cleaner look. Some of the other Solarwinds products that I have used in the past had an interface that relied on multiple rows of tabs. The Network Performance Monitor version 12 interface uses a simple series of drop down menus, as shown in Figure B.
Figure B: Solarwinds has cleaned up the user interface.
One of the best new features in Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor are the NetPath Services. The basic idea behind this feature is that many of the services that organizations use today are cloud based, and traditional network monitoring techniques simply do not work well for monitoring the performance of cloud based services. The NetPath Services allows you to specify the cloud based services that your organization uses, so that you can monitor the performance of the connectivity to that service.
The NetPath Services are accessible from the Orion Console’s My Dashboards menu. Upon choosing the NetPath Services option, the console prominently displays a link that you can click to create a new service.
As is the case with many of the product’s other features, defining a service is really easy to do. You must enter the hostname or IP address of the service, and the port number that you want to monitor. For example, if you wanted to monitor a connection to an SMTP server, you could enter the server’s IP address and specify port 25. The dialog box also allows you to enter an optional alias, and you can also configure a probing interval. By default, the software probes the specified service every ten minutes. You can see what this dialog box looks like in Figure C.
Figure C: This is the dialog box used to define a new service.
One thing that I really like about the dialog box that is shown in the figure above, is that Solarwinds has built-in real time error checking. If you enter information into a field correctly, you will see a green checkmark icon. If you make an error, you will see an indication of that too. This type of error checking is a small thing, but it makes a big difference in usability. Solarwinds doesn’t let you enter information incorrectly, and then expect you to troubleshoot the problem later on. Any mistakes are brought to your attention immediately, so that you can take care of them on the spot.
I also like the way that Solarwinds displays the output from the NetPath Services. If you look at Figure D for example, you can see a simple, green dot indicating that my connectivity to Google is good. Of course, Good is a subjective term and admins are almost certain to want more detail, especially when things go wrong. Fortunately, this is easily possible.
Figure D: The NetPath Services utilize a simple status indicator.
If you look at Figure E, you can see that the NetPath can be expanded to display a lot more detail. The display is also highly customizable. The software allows you to zoom in and out, and you can look at more detailed or less detailed views simply by clicking the icons along the left side of the screen. All of the elements shown in the figure can be clicked to retrieve even more detail, and the software even provides performance history (which is shown in the chart at the bottom of the figure).
Figure E: Solarwinds provides granular detail of the links involved in the connection.
Network Insight for F5 BIG-IP
Another nice new capability in the software is built in awareness of F5’s Big-IP platform. I don’t own any F5 products, so I was unable to test this capability. Even so, I wanted to show you the capabilities that are available. If you look at Figure F, you can see that I have gone to the Reports screen and searched on F5. There are four F5 related reports that are currently available. These reports include:
- Average LTM Connections over Last 30 Days
- Average Service Availability over Last 30 Days
- Average Service Resolutions per Second over Last 30 Days
- Average Virtual Server Availability over Last 30 Days
Figure F: Network Performance Monitor provides a series of F5 specific reports.
Over all I really like the new version of Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor. Everything worked exactly the way that it was supposed to. The only real issues that I ran into were with the documentation. For example, the documentation indicated that a SQL server was required, but the express installation option includes its own SQL Server. Similarly, the documentation did not mention the NetPath Service. Even so, I can’t deduct any points for the documentation because Solarwinds made it very clear that they were providing me with pre-release documentation that is still being finalized.
When I write reviews for this site, it has become customary to assign the software a numerical rating. These ratings range from zero (total fail) to five (prefect). With that said, I gave Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor version 12 a score of 4.9. The only reason why the product did not receive a perfect score was because I found it to be a little bit sluggish at times (although not enough to be problematic).
WindowsNetworking.com Rating 4.9/5
Learn more about SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor Version 12.0 or download a free trial.