Product Review: SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor

by [Published on 25 June 2015 / Last Updated on 25 June 2015]

In this review the author takes a look at SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor.

Product: SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor

Product Homepage: click here

Free Trial: click here

Introduction

It has always been important to monitor Internet Information Services (IIS), but in recent years IIS monitoring has become even more important because nearly every enterprise application for Windows has some sort of IIS dependency these days. That being the case, I decided to checkout SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor. Version 6.2 has a new feature called AppInsight for IIS which is designed to deliver comprehensive insights into Web sites and application pool performance.

Before I Begin

Before I get started, I need to quickly mention that for the purposes of this review I am only evaluating the AppInsight for IIS feature. SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor has numerous other features that I simply do not have space to cover. These features allow for deep monitoring of Exchange Server, SQL Server, and more.

Installation

The requirements for installing SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor (SAM) are relatively modest. SolarWinds requires a server with a 2.4 GHz processor (dual core is recommended), 4 GB of memory, and 4 GB of free disk space. In addition, the server must be running a compatible Windows Server OS (Windows Server 2003 R2, 2008 R2, 2012, and 2012 R2 are supported), IIS, the .NET Framework (version 3.5 or above). An SQL Server is also required. Supported versions of SQL Server include 2005 SP1, 2008, 2008 R2, 2012, or 2014 Express, Standard, or Enterprise. If you don’t have an SQL Server, then the installer will install SQL Server 2008 R2 Express Edition for you.

For the purposes of the review, I created a Hyper-V virtual machine running Windows Server 2012 R2 and installed the Web Server (IIS) service with the default installation options. Once my server was up and running I downloaded the free trial version of SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor. The installation process was simple and consisted of answering a few very basic questions. It took about half an hour to complete the installation process, but the install would likely be a lot faster on production hardware.

SolarWinds SAM is exposed through the Orion console, which is the standard SolarWinds Management interface. You can see what the interface looks like immediately after installation in Figure A.

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Figure A: This is what the interface looks like immediately after the installation completes.

Once the installation process completed, I added an IIS server. This process primarily consisted of adding a node (in this case an IIS server) and providing a set of credentials for the server. This process took less than a minute to complete and did not require me to install an agent onto the server.

I worked through the installation process primarily because I wanted to see how intuitive it was and whether there were any issues that might cause the installation to be problematic. The deployment process went smoothly and completed without issue.

When I was done testing the installation process, I switched over to the SolarWinds interactive demo environment for the rest of the review. SolarWinds makes a demo environment available on their Web site (http://systems.demo.solarwinds.com/Orion/Apm/Summary.aspx/) – start with the Applications Tab.. This environment is fully functional and you can use it to try out the product. The reason why I chose to use the interactive demo environment was because it contains more IIS monitoring data than I could ever hope to generate in a lab environment and I thought that it would do a better job of emulating a production environment than my on premise lab deployment would.

Monitoring IIS

Logging in to the demo environment caused the screen shown in Figure B to be displayed. As you can see in the figure, there are a number of different applications that are currently being monitored. Internet Information Services appears on the list with all of the other applications. In this particular case, the listing for IIS showed that all of the applications were up, but the status indicator was shown as yellow.

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Figure B: IIS is listed among the monitored applications.

Clicking on the IIS container caused the list of monitored resources to be expanded. I was immediately able to see that there was a condition on Web_Server_1 that needed my attention, as shown in Figure C.

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Figure C: There is an issue with Web_Server_1.

Clicking on this particular Web Server revealed that there was a problem with the HTTP Port Monitor, as shown in Figure D.

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Figure D: SolarWinds Application and Performance Monitor has detected a problem with the HTTP Port Monitor.

So at this point, I knew which Web server was experiencing an issue and I knew that the issue was related to the HTTP Port Monitor. However, I honestly wasn’t expecting much when I clicked on the HTTP Port Monitor. I thought that perhaps the software would show me some relevant Windows event log entries or something like that. What I received instead was a wealth of information about the component’s status, as shown in Figure E.

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Figure E: SolarWinds provided a ton of information about the ailing component.

If you look at the bottom of the previous figure you can see that there is a link that you can click to see the last 25 component related events. While this information is undoubtedly helpful, there is so much more information provided. The screen shows the component’s settings (which is helpful in the event of a misconfiguration), the component’s availability history, the component’s response time, and a lot of granular information about the component and its status.

Needless to say this information alone would be unquestionably helpful for troubleshooting problems. If you look back at Figure B however, you will notice that the list of applications contains an entry for AppInsight for IIS. Like the other IIS listing, it shows a status of yellow. I went ahead and expanded the container because I was curious about the reason for the discrepancy. As it turned out, the AppInsight for IIS application was configured to monitor a different set of resources than the basic IIS application.

Since six of the monitored resources were showing a status of red, I clicked on one at random to see what information would be revealed. What I found was that Server & Application Monitor gave me a hierarchical view of my entire IIS infrastructure. I was able to examine sites, application pools, and other IIS components. As you can see in Figure F, SolarWinds makes it really easy to drill down through the hierarchy to discover the sources of the problems that have been reported.

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Figure F: SolarWinds provides granular status information for the entire IIS infrastructure.

SolarWinds provides granular status information for the entire IIS infrastructure. One of the really nice things about this feature is that if a problem is detected then the alerting mechanism can do more than just let you know about the problem. It can also restart the site in an effort to minimize down time. Application pool monitoring works in a similar manner.

You will notice in the previous figure that one of the components that was reported as having problems was the HTTP Bindings Monitor. I clicked on this resource to see what would happen. The resulting screen, which you can see in Figure G, showed the same types of information as what I showed in Figure E. This time however, the Component Status Details shows the exact cause of the problem in a big, impossible to miss bubble. There is even a link that can be clicked for more information. Figure H shows the text that is displayed when I click on this message.

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Figure G: SolarWinds shows the exact cause of the problem.

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Figure H: You can click on the More link to access more detailed information about the error.

Pricing

One of the things that I have always liked about SolarWinds is that unlike many other enterprise software vendors, SolarWinds actually discloses their pricing. SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor is licensed by the largest number of component monitors, nodes, or volumes and all prices include one year of support and maintenance. Pricing is as follows:

SAM Tier*

Price (USD)**

AL150 (Up to 150 Monitors)

$2,995.00

AL300 (Up to 300 Monitors)

$5,395.00

AL700 (Up to 700 Monitors)

$9,995.00

AL1100 (Up to 1100 Monitors)

$15,195.00

AL1500 (Up to 1500 Monitors)

$20,495.00

ALX (Unlimited Monitors)

$33,695.00

The Verdict

When I write a review for this site, it has become customary to assign the product rating on a scale from 0 to 5 (with five being the best). With that said, I decided to give SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor a perfect score of 5.0, which is a solid WindowsNetworking.com Gold Award.

Those of you who read my reviews know that it is rare for me to give a perfect score in a product review. In this case however, the product was exceptional and I simply could not find anything that didn’t work or that seemed as though it needed to be improved. In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I have done some consulting projects for SolarWinds in the past. Even so, my first loyalty has always been to my readers and I therefore do not allow any relationships with a vendor to skew my product reviews. If this were an inferior product I would have no problem with saying so.

It is worth noting that I did not test every product feature. I focused my review on the AppInsight for IIS feature and did not evaluate other major features such as AppInsight for SQL or AppInsight for Exchange. Even so, I have worked with SolarWinds products for many years now and have always found the products to work really well, so I seriously doubt that there are any shortcomings in the Exchange or SQL Server monitoring capabilities that would significantly reduce the score.

MSExchange.org Rating 5/5

Learn more about SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor or download a free trial.

SolarWinds provides granular status information for the entire IIS infrastructure[KJ1] [KJ2] . One of the really nice things about this feature is that if a problem is detected then the alerting mechanism can do more than just let you know about the problem. It can also restart the site in an effort to minimize down time. Application pool monitoring works in a similar manner.


 [KJ1]

 [KJ2]One of the great values of this feature is the ability to automatically monitor individual websites and application pools. With smart alerts, you can get notified that a website is down, but that same alert will also restart the site to minimize downtime. The same is true for application pools.

See Also


The Author — Brien M. Posey

Brien M. Posey avatar

Brien Posey is an MCSE and has won the Microsoft MVP award for the last few years. Brien has written well over 4,000 technical articles and written or contributed material to 27 books.

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