SolarWinds combines a powerful log analyzer with high-level network performance views into an incredibly useful pack. Quickly solving complex network issues requires two things. First, you must see the forest—to know how everything ties together and where things can likely break. Second, you need visibility into the trees—you need to see each individual component, but only when it is relevant. SolarWinds Log and Network Performance Pack provides you with this complete network visibility.

Joseph Moody

Joseph Moody is a network admin for a public school system and helps manage 5,500 PCs. He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in Cloud and Datacenter Management and blogs at DeployHappiness.com.

If you are familiar with SolarWinds, you know that they have a plethora of problem-solving software that tie into everything from applications to server security. SolarWinds Log and Network Performance Pack is the combination of two related tools, Log Analyzer and Network Performance Monitor.

Combining these tools takes both requirements and merges them into an easy-to-use single troubleshooting set. This review will focus on how both components integrate and how they solve real-life examples. I evaluated this bundled product by downloading a free 30-day trial from their website, that you can also download and check out for yourself.

Using Network Performance Monitor to see the forest ^

I use Network Performance Monitor every day for troubleshooting problems in a complex environment. Network Performance Monitor can view all attributes from virtually any network device (client-connected APs all the way up to your central routers). The strengths of NPM are in its ability to take all that data and compile it into insanely intuitive charts and graphs.

When I am using NPM, I keep dashboards open on top utilization across every interface, top errored devices, current response times, and CPU/memory loads. These dashboards update every 30 seconds and automatically float problems to the top. Additionally, the dashboards are built into NPM and can allow you to spot trends and issues before they become big enough to affect users.

A dashboard showing client health by group and interfaces with issues

A dashboard showing client health by group and interfaces with issues

Once an issue becomes big enough, you'll likely hear a lot of questions like "Is the network down, or is the internet down?" To answer this question, at least without a sarcastic response, we often need to know if our devices are behaving as expected. Baseline graphs provide this data by showing you how the device has acted in the past week/month/etc. vs. how it is acting now.

Baselines allow you to see an issue before it becomes a problem

Baselines allow you to see an issue before it becomes a problem

Monitoring usage and average hardware load provides the data needed to correctly size and deploy additional equipment. Personally, it allowed us to save a few dollars when deciding whether to purchase 10Gb connections at certain sites.

The graphing features also extend into dynamic network maps. By monitoring interface connections, NPM can show you where each connected device sits and how your network ties together. Interface statistics, such as usage or speed, can be overlaid onto these maps. Because NPM regularly polls these devices, maps are always up to date and available when you need them.

Network maps show usage, bandwidth, and connection status

Network maps show usage, bandwidth, and connection status

Using Log Analyzer to see the trees ^

Sifting through events is tedious at the best of times. It can be overwhelming or impossible when systems are down and users are screaming. SolarWinds Log Analyzer provides a central repository for all logs with any syslog enabled device. This includes servers, access points, printers, switches, and hypervisors. Log Analyzer can handle events from syslog and SNMP traps as well as Windows and VMWare events.

Because each event is time-stamped, you can easily correlate events across these different sources. Taken from a real-life example, if switches in a room experience a temperature jump seconds before devices start failing, you know that the AC in that network closet failed.

Filtering and searching for a specific failure event

Filtering and searching for a specific failure event

Collecting logs is just a small part of this tool. The powerful filtering, searching, tagging, and action features cut out the typical log noise and streamline your response to important events. As you can see in the screenshot above, you can combine multiple filters (left side of the screen) with custom searches to find events across your entire monitored environment. When I see a strange event on one device, I like to use the advanced filter and search to ensure that no similar device is experiencing the same issue. When I do see multiple devices with the same issue, I am often able to find the root problem more quickly and fix it for good.

Log Analyzer is designed to integrate into other SolarWinds packages, as it uses the same server infrastructure. This enables you to keep sensitive event data internal and secure. If desired, you can use Log Analyzer with other third-party tools that accept common import methods. You can take specific alerts and notify key staff members or automatically create helpdesk tickets with your ticketing system when an event occurs. For example, you can submit an automatic ticket to your maintenance department to fix a broken AC in a network closet. Things like this are why I love automation!

Forwarding an event to an external client and adding custom tags

Forwarding an event to an external client and adding custom tags

Final thoughts on SolarWinds Log and Network Performance Pack ^

Troubleshooting networks is a nightmare without proper management tools. I often see organizations falling into one of two common problems. They might focus only on the devices and ignore how everything fits together by using custom configuration and one-off analyses. Alternatively, they might create some static network maps or take some usage snapshots that are outdated by the time they are needed for troubleshooting.

By utilizing SolarWinds Log and Network Performance Pack, you can avoid both problems by gaining deeper and broader insights into your network. This pack comes with a 30-day free trial - download it and see how much of your network you have been missing.

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