SolarWinds Brings Order to Network Confusion

Orion Network Performance Monitor helps administrators save time, while better understanding the performance and capabilities of the networks they manage.

By: Frank Ohlhorst dnu

Distributed enterprise networks are one of the most difficult mechanisms to manage in today's IT environments. The combination of equipment, locations, software, personnel and policies can make it almost impossible for an IT administrator to comprehend what is happening on the network and how that affects business operations. SolarWinds offers a solution to that dilemma in the form of Orion NPM (Network Performance Monitor), a software package that offers a visual representation of network performance and health.

The current version, v9.5.1, began shipping last month and starts at $2,475 for the monitoring of 100 elements. An unlimited-license version can be purchased for $20,975. Orion NPM is an excellent management tool that demystifies enterprise networks and helps administrators save time, while better understanding the performance and capabilities of the networks they manage.

What Is Orion NPM?

The idea behind the product is simple: Bring all the critical information about how the network is functioning into an easy-to-understand visual management console. At a glance, administrators can determine how well the network is performing, immediately identify potential problems and come up with viable solutions to those problems. In other words, Orion makes network management proactive.

The management console is fully configurable, allowing administrators to define a home screen that reflects all the elements that are most important to their particular infrastructure. The console can be divided into multiple views and offers an innovative feature called "Top Ten Lists," from which administrators can pick predefined criteria, such as response time, wireless traffic, bandwidth utilization, CPU utilization, network traffic, packet loss and several other elements. Each list features visual elements, such as red, yellow and green icons, to relay status information to administrators quickly.

Another innovative feature is the ability to map networks geographically. This enables administrators to define network locations on a globe or a map, with each site's status represented by a color. For example, if the network in London were experiencing an alert, the icon would be yellow. If the network were down, the color would be red, and green would indicate that there were no problems or issues.

Getting Started

I installed Orion NPM on a Windows 2008R2 server system that had Microsoft SQL server preinstalled. However, the product is designed to work on Microsoft Windows 2003 or 2008 Server with IIS and the .NET Framework installed. The product also needs SQL Server 2005 SP1 or later (express, standard or enterprise editions) to store historical data and generate reports.

Although installing a product of this type can be a complex endeavor, following the included directions and deploying the product per company recommendations made the process relatively painless. The complexity of the installation is not unique to SolarWinds; most high-end monitoring products are complicated to set up.

The basic installation of the product will require some Windows networking savvy, but SolarWinds provides good documentation to overcome any hurdles. I found that the most complex portion of the setup process was registering all the networking devices with Orion. Although the product performs basic discovery of the network, it is important to fully integrate the various routers, switches, firewalls and other networking hardware with Orion. That way, all the performance and status information can be polled from the devices.

What's more, SolarWinds offers additional modules that can assist in managing network hardware, so proper integration becomes critical. That said, as long as the product is installed and configured properly, an administrator should not have any problems with accessing the management console and monitoring devices, and setting up alerts or custom views.