What Does SolarWinds Know About Your Applications?


In a Tech Field Day Extra briefing held at VMworld 2014, SolarWinds chatted with the delegation about the future of their product set. If you’re thinking of SolarWinds as that little company that does red light / green light and makes pretty meters that show network bandwidth utilization, you’ve lost track of what has become an Austin, Texas technology powerhouse.

Over the years, SolarWinds has grown their product set — mostly through a series of acquisitions — into a framework monitoring system. For those that shudder at the term “framework”, expel thoughts of $100K+ capex, multi-week consulting engagements to get the system off the ground, etc. SolarWinds is not that. Rather, SW is all about ease of use & providing value immediately after installation. The framework simply allows for customers to broaden the capabilities of their SW product by purchasing what amount to plugins.

For example, most SW consumers will own the Network Performance Monitor product. NPM does historical network monitoring using SNMP, etc. Now, say you would like to take advantage of some of SolarWinds’ other products. Most of these are part of the same framework that NPM is. Therefore, if you install the new product on your existing NPM box, it will plugin, extending the capabilities of the SW platform.

Okay. This is all well and good. SolarWinds’ customers have been used to this model for some time — the challenge has always been getting to that elusive bit of data needed to solve a problem. Some of the “plugins” have integrated with the overall framework better than others. Sometimes, you merely get a common web interface where you shift to other tabs to do certain tasks, while other times there are automated drill-downs and hover boxes that get added, making for a more seamless integration. In addition, while SW has been great at presenting all sorts of gathered data in all sorts of ways (alerts, threshold alarming, triggered events, reporting, graphs, etc.), SW has not been great at correlating that data. In other words, in the ocean of data we receive as IT professionals, there are answers to difficult questions about the challenges our infrastructure is experiencing. Finding all that data and putting the pieces together (correlation) is really hard, typically left up to humans who know what they are looking for, assuming they do.

This leads me to the question posed in the title. What does SolarWinds know about your applications? I posed the question in that way because applications are at the forefront of what IT teams really do. IT’s job is to supply applications that do something useful for their organizations. The infrastructure is interesting, but the applications matter.

End consumers of IT are fundamentally consumers of applications, and not of infrastructure. Infrastructure consumption is a by-product of application consumption.

Most IT engineers spend their time focusing on their area of infrastructure responsibility, looking the gauges and graphs that tell them what they think they need to know — that the infrastructure is doing well. That may or may not correlate to the experience of the end user consuming an application. Infrastructure folks don’t always look at the right metrics — or possibly the right combination of metrics — that would indicate an application problem. SolarWinds gets this, and are heading in the direction of application centric data correlation.

The future for SolarWinds is a new view on the multiple streams of data gathered by their various plugins. This view is tentatively called AppStack. The idea is that SolarWinds users will get a view that is built around measuring performance of a specific application that the user community consumes. Since the AppStack view is pulling in data from different plugins, the more plugins a customer owns, the more information AppStack will have to correlate. The more data, the better the correlation. The better the correlation, the easier it gets to pinpoint both what the user experience is and what’s gone wrong if the experience is a lousy one.

I’m looking forward to AppStack with great interest. When released sometime in 2015, this functionality will supply SolarWinds’ user community with what they need next. Bravo.

About the author

Ethan Banks

Most people know me because I write & podcast about IT on the Packet Pushers network. I also co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

Find out more on my about page.


  • Any comparison to HP Openview? Mgmt seems to be always an afterthought.
    I agree the value of infrastructure and networks is the value of the services and applications running over them. By themselves they have no business value other than the value of supporting the business’ applications

  • I’ve always tried to think of myself as an application network engineer rather than an infrastructure or datacentre engineer, although such a title is not widely used. However, now that I’m in a senior role, I like to consider myself SANE (senior application network engineer) :)


Most people know me because I write & podcast about IT on the Packet Pushers network. I also co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

Find out more on my about page.

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