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How -- and why -- to add SolarWinds modules

SolarWinds is known for its capabilities in network monitoring, but flexible modules give IT operations staff the ability to monitor systems far and wide.

While best known for its powerful network monitoring capabilities, the SolarWinds product line can help IT professionals manage other areas of the data center and software stack. Let's look at some strategies for how to make it work.

Like many monitoring vendors, SolarWinds offers additional modules for virtualization, application monitoring and security/change control. What's different is how these modules work together.

With SolarWinds, you don't buy a central management piece and add modules onto that. Instead, the first product you buy -- no matter what it is -- has the framework included. The SolarWinds modules you add snap together to expand the framework. This means, for example, you could start with virtualization and expand into networking. Similarly, customers that already have the networking element can expand the framework to include virtualization or application management.

Building a framework in this way is more than simple a la carte purchasing. It's like Lego blocks; you piece things together however you see fit.

This freedom presents some challenges when integrating the framework and modules within SolarWinds. This integration must be seamless, so you lose some customization abilities in particular situations because a module must be tuned for the entire framework; otherwise you could interrupt other elements.

This also means that when you add a module, such as application monitoring, you might need to upgrade all aspects of your SolarWinds environment if you have not kept up with regular updates. While not a major complication, it's a reminder that monitoring tools, like many technologies, require regular patching.

How to select SolarWinds modules

When you evaluate SolarWinds products, you'll want to keep a few things in mind.

First, don't think of the addition of a module as a technical decision. It's a business decision -- but one driven by your operations staff. This might sound strange, but remember: Monitoring tools and problem solving, while technical in nature, follow a workflow from system to system. Don't focus on the systems as much as the users. That means application performance monitoring. With the insight into what users experience, IT staff can learn of a problem without being notified by users -- they will already have insight into it.

SolarWinds database performance analyzer

Things can get interesting here. If you add an application performance monitoring module to your environment, and you already have the SolarWinds network performance monitoring tool in place, you will start to see a troubleshooting flow develop. The tools work together to create a larger picture of what is going on, and they might be able to help identify and eliminate a problem.

Let's say you run the SolarWinds application and network monitoring products, and you encounter a storage problem. You will get some indications that the problem is related to storage, but without the storage monitor module you won't be able to finish that troubleshooting flow. This is where your organization must make a business decision about whether to expand the framework. People within particular IT silos might have strong opinions about which products are needed, but what will be best for the company? It's a higher-level discussion focused on which products will solve important problems versus which products are merely nice to have. Each business will need to choose accordingly.

Getting started

While the virtualization, database and security tools are key SolarWinds products, you might want to start with the application stack and work your way down.

Don't think of the addition of a module as a technical decision. It's a business decision.

One exception to this strategy is the SolarWinds service desk product, which can be a portal to all aspects of troubleshooting. Integration of the service desk framework into a monitoring setup enables IT admins to directly access the data they need to quickly resolve tickets.

One other interesting point with the SolarWinds products is the absence of dedicated cloud-tools versions for popular offerings. For example, the ability to monitor a virtual environment on premises also includes the ability to monitor across multiple cloud environments. This arrangement not only saves on license costs but puts everything in the same tool, from on premises to cloud.

Not only will this help to reduce the tool switching for admins, it gives a more comprehensive view for the operations team. And it fits with the increased recognition by SolarWinds and others that hybrid IT and the continued collapsing of silos is the future of IT operations.

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