The first presentation of Networking Field Day 5 day 2 was from our old friends at Solarwinds. We heard from them before at NFD3, but the nice thing about Solarwinds is that they’ve always got new tools coming out. I’ve also served as a Thwack Ambassador on their forums and been featured as an IT Spotlight Blogger. I wanted to see what Solarwinds would bring to the table at NFD5.
The geeks from Solarwinds started out with a quick overview of the tool portfolio. One thing to take note of: most of the tools that you use a standalone products are actually integrated into the larger Orion platform. Solarwinds makes some of them available as free downloads for trials or point solutions. You can get all of them together in one big toolbox, provided you have the horsepower to run it all. It tend to lean more toward the “right tool, right job” mentality rather than getting the whole box. For every IP SLA monitor crescent wrench I use regularly, there are a multitude of metric socket sets and emergency break tools that I may never even touch. That’s why it’s great when Solarwinds makes their software available to all for only the investment of a registration.
You’ll also notice in the video around 20 minutes in, I mention something about Solarwinds and SDN. Colin McNamara (@colinmacnamara) chided me a bit about “SDN washing” of their technology. Colin does have a point about overuse of SDN to describe everything under the sun. Sanjay Castelino even made a post to the effect that what Solarwinds is doing isn’t SDN. In a sense, he’s right. These tools aren’t network programmability or overlay networking or even automation. To me though, a part of what Solarwinds is doing falls under the SDN spectrum in that they can program different devices from a single interface. Sure, it’s not the sexy sports car idea of network slicing and service instantiation that others are looking at. Even the ability to quickly configure devices and pull pertinent info from them is better than some of what we’ve got going on right now. This software allows you to define parameters and configuration in your network. That’s SDN of some flavor to me. Maybe not mocha SDN with sprinkles but something a bit different.
This led to a bit of a derailment of the conversation. The delegates seized on the Solarwinds development model of “giving the customers what they want.” I’d heard this many times before, so it wasn’t necessarily new to me. What’s key to me in that message is that you’re going to have a lot of content customers. Not necessarily happy, but content. The key difference to me comes from the model. If you give the customers what they want, they will be pacified. All their desires are met and the can do their jobs. However, if you can break outside of the demand-based model and show them something they never knew they needed, you have a real chance to make them deliriously happy. Think about something like the iPad. Did we know we needed it before it was released? Not likely. Now think about how many people have jumped at the chance to own a tablet device. If those companies had simply been giving their customers what they asked for think about the market that would have been missed. I’m not saying that Solarwinds is doing a bad job by any means. I just think they need to get a geek in the house working on crazy stuff that will make people say “holy cow!!!”
Solarwinds talked to us about their newest network monitoring pieces. They’ve got some very interesting tools, including Network Performance Monitor. There was also some discussion around their IP Address Managment (IPAM) tool, which is what I wrote about during my Thwack Ambassadorship. Thankfully, we had Terry Slattery in the room. Terry loves the network monitoring discussions, having founded Netcordia and release NetMRI for that purpose before it was purchased by Infoblox. Terry has seen a lot, and he’s not afraid to tell you what he thinks. When we discussed the features of User Device Tracker (UDT), he asked if it can do a time-based report on unused switch ports. When the answer wasn’t clear, he told the geeks, “If you can’t do that, you need to write that down.” We all had a couple of good jokes at their expense, but that fact is that when Terry tells you something is important, especially when it comes to network monitoring the chances are it’s really important.
Solarwinds is also getting into the API game with SWIS – Solarwinds Information Service. This SOAP interface (soon to be REST) gives you the ability to write programs to pull data from the network and insert/update the same in many devices. See what I’m talking about with SDN and the ability to pull info from the network and push it back again? I think Solarwinds really needs to focus their efforts in this area and drive some more programmability from their tools rather than the old methods of just hiding CLI command pushes and things of that nature. By allowing users to code to an API, you’ve just abstracted all of the icky parts of the backend away and focused the conversation where it needs to be – on getting problems solved.
If you’d like to learn more about Solarwinds, be sure to check them out at http://www.solarwinds.com. You can also follow them on Twitter as @solarwinds. Be sure to check out their dicussion forums at http://thwack.solarwinds.com.
Solarwinds has awesome tools. They’re going to have awesome tools in the future. But they’ve hit on some pieces of the puzzle that are going to do much more than that. Beyond giving us a toolbox with fancy handles and shiny stickers, they’ve started to do what a lot of other people have done and give us designs for what we should build with the tools they’ve given us. By expanding into that area of allowing us to program to APIs and put the pieces into a bigger context, they have the ability to transcend being a point product vendor releasing neat toys. When you can be a meaningful discussion point in any monitoring and management meeting without being dismissed as just a niche player, that’s handy indeed.
Tech Field Day Disclaimer
Solarwinds was a sponsor of Network Field Day 5. As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Network Field Day 5. In addition, Solarwinds provided me with breakfast at the hotel. They also gave the delegates a t-shirt and a messenger bag, along with all the stickers and buttons we could fit into our carry ons. At no time did they ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review. The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.