SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor 2022.4 review: Quirky licensing and a remarkable range of troubleshooting tools

Lots of optional extras to consider, but NPM delivers a big monitoring toolbox in a smart web console

The SolarWinds NPM console

IT Pro Verdict


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    Well-designed Orion console


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    Confusing licensing

SolarWinds offers one of the most extensive ranges of network management products and its Network Performance Monitor (NPM) has always taken pride of place. This is no surprise: it offers a wealth of network troubleshooting and monitoring features all easily accessed from the same Orion web console that's used by all its stablemates.

You need to be careful with licensing, though, as it's based on monitored elements, which can be nodes, interfaces and volumes. We've shown the price for an SL250 yearly subscription licence, which allows you to monitor up to 250 of each type, but if any single element goes over this limit, you'll need to upgrade to an SL500 licence, which pushes yearly costs to £4,594.

New features in NPM 2022.4 aren't very exciting. Along with visibility into VeloCloud SD-WAN services, the interface status views have been improved to show their assigned alert thresholds. NPM can monitor and report on Microsoft Azure cloud services, but for Amazon Web Services, you'll need the optional SolarWinds Hybrid Cloud Observability or Server and Application Monitor products.

It took 90 minutes on a Windows Server 2019 host for the routine to download and install all the required components. When evaluating NPM you can use the included SQL Server Express, which has a 10GB database limit, but this isn't supported for production environments so you'll need to source a full version of SQL Server 2016 or later.

Our first network discovery took ten minutes, and NPM reported back with a detailed list of all our lab systems. Discovery tasks can be scheduled to run at regular intervals and will alert you when changes have occurred or new devices are detected.

The Orion web console presents an avalanche of information that can be refined with customised views. New dashboards are produced by adding extra columns, choosing resource views and placing them in the desired order and, if you run out of room, the network operations centre rotates through multiple dashboard views at predefined intervals.

The SolarWinds NPM user interface

Coloured icons highlight device issues, with the console's Alerts & Activity tab providing a detailed overview where you can drill down into each entry to see what the problem is. The Message Center adds full search facilities and alerts can be linked to actions such as sending SMS messages and emails.

NPM provides only basic availability monitoring of virtualisation hosts so you may need to consider the Virtualization Manager, which offers much more but costs £1,337 for an 8-socket licence. Snapping into the Orion web console, it presented plenty of details about our VMware and Hyper-V hosts, including CPU, memory and datastore use, along with VM resource usage.

Businesses that need to quickly identify the root cause of problems will find the NPM Performance Monitor a boon as it compares data collected from multiple monitors in one dashboard. You can also stay on top of cloud service performance issues with NPM's NetPath, which probes external web locations and provides hop-by-hop maps with latency and packet loss details.

NPM's Quality of Experience (QoE) service is another winner. This uses sensors linked to switch mirror ports to identify, categorise and analyse traffic for over 1,500 apps. The QoE dashboard is ideal for keeping an eye on app usage: it displays transactions, traffic volumes and response times, and separates them into business, social and potentially risky categories.

The quirky licensing needs to be kept under control, but NPM offers a remarkable range of network monitoring and troubleshooting tools. The Orion web console is well-designed and easily customised, ensuring support staff always stay one step ahead of network problems.

Dave Mitchell

Dave is an IT consultant and freelance journalist specialising in hands-on reviews of computer networking products covering all market sectors from small businesses to enterprises. Founder of Binary Testing Ltd – the UK’s premier independent network testing laboratory - Dave has over 45 years of experience in the IT industry.

Dave has produced many thousands of in-depth business networking product reviews from his lab which have been reproduced globally. Writing for ITPro and its sister title, PC Pro, he covers all areas of business IT infrastructure, including servers, storage, network security, data protection, cloud, infrastructure and services.