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Solarwinds - A Lot of Hot Air? - MovingPackets.net

Solarwinds – A Lot of Hot Air?

Solarwinds Logo

Back in March, Solarwinds presented at Networking Field Day 5 (NFD5), where they gave us an overview of their network management products. Then last month I was engaged by Solarwinds as a Thwack Ambassador, where I made some posts on the subject of IP Address Management, and got some really great feedback and contributions from other Thwack users.

So who the heck are Solarwinds, and what do they do?

Some History

I first came across Solarwinds in the year they were founded, 1999 because I used to work for the same company as co-founder Don Yonce. Presumably because of that relationship, the company rolled out Solarwinds Engineer’s Toolset to all the field employees, and in fact continued to include the software on its standard build for the next 13 years. As a result I’ve always had a soft spot for the rather unusual company that is Solarwinds.

Why “unusual”? Well, they have no field salesforce, no professional services, and they have one of the most memorable and geeky marketing strategies I’ve come across. Sales are Internet-based, strongly driven by offering all their software in the form of free, time-limited but full-function evaluation sofware that’s easy to convert to licensed software once you decide it works for you. They also provide a whole number of free tools for download – many of the little geek toys that network engineers can really use, and these act as a nice introduction to the brand. That approach seems to be working for them. It has been amazing to watch Solarwinds start off small and end up as large as it is now.

Free Tools

Solarwinds currently offers 29 free tools for download. Each is a mission specific standalone tool, ranging from a great IP Subnet Calculator to a basic IP Address Tracker (really basic IPAM of a sort), network performance tools, Active Directory tools, security tools and more. If you haven’t used at least one of these before, I’d be surprised. My only minor irritation with the free tools is that they all sit behind a registration page, off the back of which Solarwinds follows up and sends you product emails. I guess that fits in with the marketing and sales model Solarwinds uses, but there’s a danger of annoying the users too.

Alert Central

Solarwinds distinguish “products” from “tools” in their download section, offering two free products. The first is mobile access to their NPM and SAM products. At NFD5, Solarwinds announced the availability of the second free Product, Alert Central. As free products go, this one seems particularly cool, offering alert consolidation, management and escalation, with filters, routing rules, AD integration and On Call calendars. And if you have Orion, I gather it can integrate with that too.

Alert Central

Alert Central is available as a virtual appliance (VMWare or HyperV) and, amazingly, does NOT require registration. I can hear the round of applause already! This is one I want to play with; it seems like an awful lot of product for no money, and I can see how this could really help small and medium size businesses manage their alerts.

Other Products

Solarwinds is not a charity, so they offer over 20 paid products to manage and monitor your network, systems and applications (including virtualization). I already mentioned the Engineer’s Toolset which I love. It’s such a handy set of tools to have on hand, for performance monitoring, SNMP walking, IP scanning, a very efficient ping sweep tool, Cisco password decryption, and log management. However, Solarwinds’ real jewel is Orion, a web interface that provides unified management and reporting for almost all Solarwinds software. Add a product, and you add a tab to Orion. By way of explanation, this image compares the fully-loaded Orion product demo with an Orion instance that just has IPAM installed:

Orion Menus

The one exception to this integration is Firewall Security Manager (FSM), which currently reports into Network Configuration Manager (NCM) which in turn reports into Orion.

As I mentioned earlier, one unusual thing about Solarwinds is that they make all their software available as a Product Trial, a free 30-day fully-functional demo. This is great if you aren’t sure if the product will suit you, as you get to try it out (all of it) at no cost. Again, you have to register to download (perhaps more reasonable in this instance) and you’re likely to receive a sales email by way of follow up.

My Take

I like Solarwinds. In my head – and I don’t know if they would agree – I see Solarwinds as being best suited to anywhere up to medium-sized enterprises. Beyond that, I don’t know if the features and scalability are there. On the other hand, with scale comes price, and Solarwinds has always made a very strong argument on the basis of price compared to the “big boys” in each area they target. I read a quote that said that Solarwinds aimed to provide 80% of the functionality for 10% of the price compared to the “big” competition. And I think largely, they hit that metric. One look at their “Nascar” slide (all the corporate logos) shows just how far Solarwinds has penetrated even some quite large companies, which may come as a surprise.

As free tools go, you can’t go far wrong checking out Solarwinds’ offerings. Alert Central looks particular useful, and tremendous value for many companies.

There’s so much more I could say about Solarwinds, but instead why not hear it direct from them? Here are a few videos of their presentation at NFD5:

SolarWinds Introduction and Portfolio Overview

SolarWinds Network Management Update

SolarWinds SWiS API Introduction and Demo

SolarWinds Free Products



Solarwinds was a paid presenter at Networking Field Day 5, and while I received no compensation for my attendance at this event, my travel, accommodation and meals were paid for by NFD5. I was explicitly not required or obligated to blog, tweet, or otherwise write about or endorse the sponsors, but if I choose to do so I am free to give my honest opinions about the vendors and their products, whether positive or negative. I participated in the Solarwinds Ambassador program on a paid basis under contract for four Thwack posts in the month of July 2013.

Please see my Disclosures page for more information.

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