Sunday, 05 September 2021 21:20

Wham, bam, SolarWinds SAM keeps you ahead of server and application downtime

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REVIEW PROMOTION Any business network with more than a handful of devices needs a good systems and applications monitoring tool. It will proactively alert you to outages and abnormal behaviour and allow you to see your environment's health on a single pane of glass.

You don't want to be the IT Manager who receives a call from the Managing Director ain't why the mail server is down if you weren't already aware. If you don't have a monitoring tool then you need one; it's that simple. This allows you to free you and your team from manually checking infrastructure to focusing on other tasks and managing your equipment by exception. It also means you're ahead of the business and end-users in the event something goes wrong. You're not waiting for someone to walk in and ask, "Hey, are you aware the file server isn't working?" because you'll already know, and how many other devices and applications are affected, and be in the triage stage.

An attractive option over the years has been Nagios, which is free and open-source, and cross-platform. Though, this comes with a downside too. Nagios is predominantly a toolkit to bring together a range of scripts and agents that deliver server, network device and application insights to the Nagios dashboard. As such, companies using Nagios successfully typically have a basic experience or have staff dedicated to scripting and configuring and maintaining the product. The cost to get into Nagios is low - simply download it and install it on a suitable device - but this can be a false economy and in the long run, may well cost significantly more than a commercial product. Nagios support is largely crowd-sourced and thus there's no guarantee for solutions to things your team cannot resolve internally. Still, if you'd rather spend your time programming instead of monitoring systems, Nagios could be an option for you.

Another well-known option is Microsoft's System Center Operations Manager, SCOM. This comes with wide enterprise-grade support from Microsoft itself, as well as many partners. For many organisations, this is paired with Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), now rebranded as Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager (MECM) Cloud Infrastructure and Management. It's quite a mouthful and while support is there, it's expensive and often regarded as cumbersome and difficult to use. Some regard SCOM as being in charge of them, instead of being the tool that lets them be in charge of their own network. Still, SCOM is embedded in many a large Microsoft-based environment, but even so, an alternate server and application monitoring product can work well as a complement to it.

Another option with a low barrier to entry is PRTG, and you can set it up easily without any cost for up to 100 sensors, where a sensor is any individual thing you wish to monitor. For example, a server's HTTP and HTTPS responsiveness would be two sensors, while the same server's CPU usage, disk space, RAM and ping response time would add another four sensors. Thus, the volume of sensors can add up quickly but it's definitely a tool you can get set up and at the very least pinging all your devices. The company behind PRTG, Paessler, tout it as a network management product and while the capability is there to monitor web-based applications to an extent this is not what it is primarily known for, and compared to alternatives it can feel flat here.

Another commercial offering is Manage Engine, which provides a reasonable degree of functionality but again handles network uptime effortlessly, falling short of comprehensive application monitoring and insights.

Seeking a comprehensive solution to monitor network infrastructure, servers - both on-premises and on a cloud, as well as applications with deep insights, iTWire looked to SolarWinds SAM - the name literally meaning "Server & Application Monitor."

SolarWinds has been in the business of providing trusted enterprise-grade management and monitoring tools for years, spanning servers, databases, networks, applications and other options. It's staked its reputation on delivering products the IT team will love, simplifying setup while providing advanced and deeply functional utilities, and genuinely letting the team manage by exception.

SAM provides a free trial, with pricing starting at $1980 for a ten-node subscription. The product includes application monitoring templates for over 300 products out-of-the-box with further community-developer support for a further 1100+ products, meaning it goes way beyond simple ping. Pinging a server to see if it responds lets you know the operating system is up, but not if IIS or Apache is responding. Testing the HTTP/S ports may then let you know the webserver is up, but your application could still be giving 404 errors for all you know. By contrast, having support for the application means the results are richer and more informative, giving genuine insight into how the application is performing. This is equally true for specific network hardware devices and server types.

SAM's automatic discovery makes it simple to set up, while its customisable dashboards and easily implemented alerts and reports gives you the data you need when you need it. It brings an ease-of-use that is foreign to SCOM; it brings insights that exceed that of Manage Engine, it provides features not available in PRTG at any price, and its simplicity is in stark contrast to Nagios with little ongoing maintenance required. iTWire found SAM easy to set and forget, with minimal work required to add new devices or applications later. Its facilities to figure out the dependencies between applications and devices really stand out.

SAM knows all about Active Directory, AWS, Azure, RabbitMQ, Windows, Linux, IIS, Apache, Docker, and so much more, giving you full end-to-end visibility across your entire enterprise hybrid multi-cloud world from one dashboard. It's agentless so you don't need to install or update, any extra software on all your production machines.

You can customise monitoring with your own scripts if needed, and you can analyse the data surfaced to inform server capacity planning and right-size your hardware based on actual usage.

What’s more, SAM works with SolarWinds’s product suite to bring a range of features competitors can only dream about. These include:

  1. AppStack, the ability to seamlessly integrate with other SolarWinds modules to give full application stack visibility to correlate performance issues stretching over other layers
  2. PerfStack, to easily create organization-specific charts to correlate performance issues using all the metrics collected by SolarWinds
  3. Orion maps, to visualise the health of servers and applications on a map with a signature ‘time machine’ feature that, quite literally, lets you travel back in time to see historic events, downtime, alerts, and see exactly what happened in the past.

In all our tests SolarWinds SAM proved its value over and over again, letting me know every time something went awry and pinpointing precisely where I needed to divert my attention. And, it’s worth mentioning that SolarWinds actively and consciously works to become a leader in enterprise software security, ensuring the security and integrity of the software it delivers to customers through continuous enhancements of its product development, threat detection and prevention.

If you don't have a server and application monitor on your network then you need one, and you owe it to your network's health, your business, your customers, and your own peace of mind and sanity to check out SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor now.

See for yourself how easy and effective it is in this official video:


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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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