SolarWinds Orion NPM 11.5 review

One reason we love the latest version of SolarWinds’ Orion NPM (Network Performance Monitor) is the sheer number of monitoring features it packs in as standard. New features include support for 802.11 wireless APs, VMware and Hyper-V hosts, plus a handy QoE (quality of experience) tool for monitoring app traffic.                                             

SolarWinds Orion NPM 11.5 review

Even better, NPM’s LUCID (logical, usable, customisable, interactive and drill-down) user interface really lives up to its name. Its homepage presents a summary of all network activity, device status and alerts, which allowed us to quickly identify problems.

You can customise the interface throughout, so each view can be built to your own requirements. We swiftly added new columns and resized them to fit, moved monitored resources within the columns and used the preview option to admire our work of art.

What’s more, it’s a quick tool: the NPM Discovery took only ten minutes to scan the lab’s subnet. Discoveries can be scheduled to run regularly and set to alert you when changes occur or new devices are detected.

The amount of information available for each device is staggering

Fault diagnosis is equally fast. We simply selected devices in alert states from the summary page and drilled down for more detail. The amount of information available for each device is staggering; we particularly liked the network topology views for our HP switches, revealing which systems were physically connected to each port.

NPM alerts range from sending emails to running scripts or other programs. We could link them to individual devices and dynamic groups, while conditional group dependencies stop alert flare-ups occurring when a core device such as a switch fails.

Once NPM has enough historical data to work with it can provide forecasts for capacity planning. We didn’t need to do anything to activate this, either, as the drill-down display for our servers included forecast graphs for physical and virtual CPU and memory resources.

NPM had no problem spotting our VMware host, allowing us to view its vitals and all VMs from the Virtualization pane. Our Hyper-V system had to be added using WMI/ICMP, though, as a straight SNMP discovery wouldn’t identify it. With this sorted it now appeared in the same pane as our VMware host, along with all VM and host utilisation details. It’s a great added-value inclusion as standard, although for a greater insight into virtual environments we recommend the optional Virtualization Manager – prices start at £1,975.

NPM identified our Netgear WNDAP350 wireless controller and showed all its virtual APs along with interface utilisation and throughput. We’re a little disappointed it couldn’t list wireless clients, though, and also note the heatmap feature only works with Aruba, Cisco, HP, Meru, Ruckus and Motorola APs.

To test QoE, we deployed the packet-analysis sensor on the NPM host and connected it to a mirror port on our HP switch so it could see all network traffic. The sensor can be placed on any network system the NPM polling engine can see and one free sensor licence is included.

The sensor categorises network traffic into over 1,000 predefined apps and we were bowled over by the amount of data on offer – HTTP, HTTPS, CIFS, FTP, Exchange, SQL, Facebook, Amazon Web Services… it’s all there. We were able to monitor details such as app response times and also found it very useful that QoE separated traffic into graphs showing business, social and potentially risky categories.

The licensing structure is a little confusing but SolarWinds NPM 11.5 does represent good value for SMBs. It delivers a wealth of new features, including excellent monitoring for virtualised environments, and its main console is a cinch to customise.

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