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Review of SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor 12.1

Product: SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor 12.1

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SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor has been around for quite some time now, but the company has recently released version 12.1. Since I have worked with some of the previous versions of Network Performance Monitor, I was curious to take a look at this version and see what was new.

SolarWinds has actually put quite a bit of work into version 12.1 of its Network Performance Monitor. This version includes new features such support for Cisco Meraki wireless access points, and enhanced network path monitoring.

Of these new features, one of the most significant is PerfStack. PerfStack is a performance monitoring solution that is designed to help IT professionals troubleshoot performance problems by displaying graphical representations of performance metrics alongside one another.

Admittedly, performance monitoring is nothing new. The Windows operating system, for instance, has included a performance monitoring tool for decades. Even so, SolarWinds has taken a rather novel approach to performance monitoring. In doing so, they have made performance monitoring completely intuitive, and also highly effective. This is quite an accomplishment when you consider that performance monitors generally have a reputation for being difficult to use.

PerfStack

PerfStack is based around the concept of a metric palette. Consider for a moment how an artist uses a palette. The palette contains various colors of paint, and the artist is free to select the colors of paint that he or she wishes to paint onto the canvas. Network Performance Monitor’s metric palette works similarly. It makes a variety of performance monitoring options available, and the admin is free to pick and choose the metrics that are the most beneficial at that particular moment. As you can see in the screenshot below, the admin is able to simply drag metrics to a chart. Incidentally, this chart can be saved for future use, so that the administrator does not have to re-create it each time that it is needed.

Network Performance Monitor uses the concept of a metric palette.

The first step in using PerfStack is to add entities to the metric palette. This means selecting the devices that you want to monitor. In this particular case, for example, I have selected three Hyper-V servers.

The Add Entities option allows you to select the devices that you want to monitor.

For each entity, there are a variety of metrics that you can add to the chart. These metrics are categorized, and you can add a metric to the chart by using a simple drag and drop. Dragging a metric to the canvas creates a new PerfStack chart. As you drag additional metrics to the canvas, those metrics can be turned into new charts that are displayed alongside the existing chart, or you can add metrics to one of the charts that is already being displayed. The screen capture below, for example, shows three parallel charts that are tracking the percent loss for the three Hyper-V servers. As an alternative, I could easily combine this information into a single chart, or add additional metrics to the charts that are shown in the figure.

Tracking the percent loss for each of the three Hyper-V servers.

The thing that makes PerfStack so powerful is the fact that charts can be created or modified on a whim. SolarWinds makes it simple to add and remove performance metrics, which makes comparative analysis really easy to do. You can even combine dissimilar metrics from multiple entities onto a single chart should you have the need.

As you look at the previous figure, you will probably notice that the metrics within the metric palette are divided into categories such as CPU / Memory and Response Time. At first, I found some of the available metrics to be somewhat unusual for a network performance monitoring solution. It seemed that some key metrics were missing, and that SolarWinds had provided some metrics that weren’t really related to network performance.

What I eventually discovered, however, was that PerfStack is context sensitive. The metrics that are shown in the previous screen capture are being made available because I selected servers (as opposed to some other type of device) from the Add Entities screen.

Orion Summary dashboard

The Orion Summary dashboard contains a mechanism that you can use to make Network Performance Monitor aware of the nodes and devices on your network. If you look at the screenshots below, you can see that the All Nodes window lists some Windows devices and a couple of printers. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor can also recognize network hardware such as switches and routers. In my case, however, no network hardware is listed because my switches and routers are not SNMP compliant. If SNMP-compliant hardware existed on my lab network, I would have been able to select that hardware from the Add Entities screen, and would have been presented with a choice of metrics that are appropriate for monitoring such a device.

Orion Summary dashboard lists the devices that Network Performance Monitor has been made aware of.

PerfStack could probably be best described as a tool for comparing relevant metrics across a period of time, in an effort to establish cause-and-effect relationships for network performance problems. It is important to remember, however, that PerfStack is a part of the Orion Platform, and not a standalone tool. As such, PerfStack is designed to work as a complement to other product features.

Network Performance Monitor maintains a log of significant network events. These logs are accessible through the Events option on the Alerts and Activity menu, at the top of the console. As you can see below, Network Performance Monitor not only lists the events that have occurred but also provides a rich filtering engine that can make it easier to locate specific events. This is helpful, because PerfStack displays performance data on a timeline. If a network performance problem has occurred, you can use PerfStack to visualize the point at which the problem began, and then switch to the Events view to see what was happening at that period of time.

Network Performance Monitor contains a built-in event viewer.

Of course, most admins probably won’t be spending their day monitoring PerfStack charts. Thankfully, Network Performance Monitor contains an Alerts feature that can notify an administrator if a monitored metric exceeds a predefined threshold value. Here’s an example of some alerts that have been triggered.

Network Performance Monitor can generate alerts when threshold values are exceeded.

One thing that I especially liked about this feature is that SolarWinds has taken the time to create numerous alerts that you can enable on an as-needed basis. Network Performance Monitor also allows you to create custom alerts.

The verdict

When I write a review for this site, it has become customary to assign the product a numerical star rating ranging from zero to five, with five stars being the highest possible score. After careful consideration, I gave SolarWinds Network Monitor version 12.1 a score of 4.9, which is a gold-star award.

Although this review focused primarily on one new feature, PerfStack, all of the features found in Network Performance Monitor 12.0 still exist. You can find my review of the 12.0 release here.

For admins, PerfStack will prove to be very helpful for troubleshooting performance problems, and only serves to improve an already great product. Combining all the great Network Performance Monitor features that were introduced in previous versions with PerfStack and the newly introduced support for Cisco Meraki makes it immediately clear that this product is a winner.

TechGenix.com Rating 4.9/5

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