SolarWinds NPM 2019.4 review: A monitoring masterclass

A great set of monitoring and performance tools, presented in a slick and customisable web console

£2,275 exc VAT (100 elements)
  • Highly customisable dashboards
  • Excellent APM features
  • PerfStack makes troubleshooting a breeze
  • VM monitoring is comparatively basic
  • Setup is slower than some rivals
  • Disappointing mobile support

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM) is a well-featured monitoring solution – and it will particularly appeal if you’re already using other SolarWinds products, as it integrates into SolarWind’s central Orion web console.

New features in the latest release include a graphical view of usage and status details for Cisco Catalyst 2960 and Juniper EX-series switches. You can also now view real-time graphs of CPU, memory and interface usage for any node, while the addition of widgets to the page settings screen makes it easier to customise views for individual devices.

The Orion web server has been updated to improve performance. Having experienced issues ourselves with the speed of previous versions, we’re happy to say that pages now load noticeably more quickly.

Setting up NPM isn’t quite as swift as with some other products – it took us around 90 minutes from start to finish – but it’s very easy, with the installer automatically downloading all required components. The first time you visit the web console you’re greeted by a discovery wizard, which prompted us to enter our IP address ranges and subnets, along with details of our AD domain controllers and system credentials – and invited us to schedule regular re-runs of the discovery procedure.

Once the various items on your network have all been identified, colour-coded icons highlight device issues. The console’s Alerts & Activity tab provides an overview, from which you can focus in on the details to see exactly what the problem is. The Message Center, meanwhile, provides extensive search facilities, and alerts can be linked to actions such as sending SMS messages and emails.

One feature of NPM that we rate particularly highly is its customisable dashboards. When you first access the console you might feel overwhelmed by an avalanche of information, but a dashboard can be quickly modified by adding or removing columns and moving resource views around. If you run out of room, you can set up a big-screen NOC view that rotates through multiple dashboard views at predefined intervals.

Application monitoring is another strength: the Quality of Experience dashboard can identify, categorise and analyse traffic from over 1,500 applications. Sensors simply need to be connected to a switch mirror port, and if you install them on hosts already being monitored by NPM, they won’t consume an extra node licence.

Then there’s the NetPath feature. This probes external web locations and presents live maps showing latency and packet loss details for each hop, making it easy to pinpoint cloud service performance issues. Windows and Linux remote agents can securely monitor cloud servers or you can use Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure APIs which don’t require any NPM licenses.

And one of NPM’s cleverest features is PerfStack, which can help pinpoint the root cause of complex network problems by comparing a range of metrics from multiple systems. You can set these up using simple drag and drop manoeuvres, and choose a common time frame that makes it easy to compare metrics such as CPU or memory usage and identify which system is misbehaving.

The standard NPM package is more limited when it comes to VMware and Hyper-V hosts, with only basic availability monitoring included. If you want more, the optional Virtualisation Manager module adds datastore usage and capacity planning reports. 

Mobile support is comparatively weak, too: to access the console from our iPad, we had to install SolarWind’s separate Mobile Admin Server, which costs £533 – and, after linking the iOS app to it, we found the minimal information provided didn’t remotely justify the expense.

Although NPM has its shortcomings, its monitoring and troubleshooting tools can’t be faulted – and the web console is a pleasure to use, putting everything at your fingertips to ensure you don’t miss out on important information and issues.

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