SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor 12.4 review: The perfect network monitoring tool

Dave Mitchell

14 Jan, 2019

A smart console, innovative features and great value

From £2,245 exc VAT

Time-poor SMBs will love SolarWinds’ Network Performance Monitor (NPM) as it puts everything they need to know about network health right at their fingertips. It delivers an impressive range of network monitoring tools, all neatly integrated into SolarWinds’ Orion unified web console which can be customised to show all problem areas at a glance.

The main update in NPM 12.4 targets enterprises, as it now monitors Cisco’s software defined networks (SDNs). NPM receives a few network performance tweaks while the Orion web server centrally upgrades all polling engines and supports secure logins via SAML v2 providers.

Licensing is a little confusing as it’s based on elements, which can be monitored nodes, interfaces or logical disk volumes. We’ve shown the price of an SL100 license which enables 100 of each type and if any one element type goes over this threshold, you can either delete those you don’t require, or upgrade to the next level of license.

Installation on a Windows Server 2016 host took 90 minutes due to the new online installer downloading all the latest components. Next, a discovery wizard asked for address ranges, subnets plus credentials and 15 minutes later, furnished us with details of every SNMP- and WMI-enabled device on the lab network.

It creates a base set of alerts and thresholds for every monitored resource and you can customise these to link specific alerts with a wide range of actions. If a critical system or service goes offline, you can trigger actions such as sending messages by SMS, email and Syslog or running a program or script.

The NPM web console provides a menu bar across the top for one-click access to dashboards, alerts, reports and settings. Its summary page presents a complete rundown on network activity while colour-coded icons highlight all detected problems.

The console and all device views can be easily customised using the Pencil tool. We added new columns, resized them to fit, moved resource views around to suit and chose from a range of snazzy speedo dials to show items such as CPU utilization.

NPM goes way beyond simple network monitoring though; its Quality of Experience (QoE) feature keeps you in the loop about application activity and can now identify over 1,500 apps. One sensor license is included in the price and with this loaded on our NPM host, we chose which apps to monitor and viewed traffic volume and response time graphs along with pie charts showing business, social and potentially risky activities.

We run both VMware and Hyper-V hosts in the lab and although NPM correctly identified them, it only provided basic availability polling. To get more detail such as datastore usage, VM host resource utilization and capacity planning reports, you need the optional Virtualization Manager (VMAN) which snaps neatly into the Orion web console.

More complex network problems can be solved with NPM’s PerfStack which uses correlation projects to compare ranges of metrics from different nodes. Choose your nodes, drag selected metrics into the project and use the Performance Analysis dashboard to pinpoint exactly what the cause is.

Windows and Linux remote agents can securely monitor cloud servers or you can use Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure APIs which won’t consume any element licenses. Cloud services can also be closely monitored as NPM’s NetPath probes external locations or web sites and provides hop-by-hop maps with latency and packet loss details for each step.

SolarWinds NPM is one of the most sophisticated network monitoring products on the market and a great choice for SMBs. It neatly amalgamates a wealth of tools into a single intuitive console and takes all the guesswork out of troubleshooting network issues