Two weeks ago, it was my pleasure to take part in another SolarWinds User Group™—this one in New York. For two days, we spoke about ways to get the most out of your monitoring infrastructure. We covered everything from the basics of network and systems management, to tuning your alerts so they stop keeping you up at night. Like each SWUG™ this year, we’ve been modifying the format as requests have come in. I spoke about the “evolution” previously, and this event was no exception.
One thing that didn’t change was me kicking off the day speaking about how you’re more than your job titles and how supporting end users is for more than your helpdesk. More than half of the room had previously worked front-line on a helpdesk (answering the phones or working directly with customers). I count myself among them. The helpdesk can be so much more than a mere stepping-stone in a career path; it’s also an excellent resource for enabling technicians to better themselves. The helpdesk both understands the caller’s pain and wants to work quickly toward resolution.
Then we played with the format a little bit and had Brandon Shopp give back-to-back overviews of how we’ve made advances in helping you monitor both network management and security operations. It’s been a busy year and there were so many topics to cover, we couldn’t go into advanced detail on them all.
Next up we pulled back the curtain a little bit, and showed you the SolarWinds approach to the SDLC. Customer feedback is such an important part of the SolarWinds Development Life Cycle (SWDLC anyone?) and we wanted to take this opportunity for people to understand its relevance. Tulsi Patel and Serena Chou told everyone why customer involvement is so critical to the way we build software at SolarWinds, we wanted to give everyone an opportunity to ask the questions important to them. So, after a lunch break, we changed how we handled our breakout sessions. (I did say we’re constantly evolving the way we organize SWUG events, right?)
This time in our breakout sessions, we offered deep dives based around the products SolarWinds offers. On this first day we spoke about network management in one room and security operations in a separate room. This way, we could have everyone share their stories and dig deep into the technologies and products as needed. It was a choose-your-own-adventure format, and it was great to get the interactions from the attendees in each room. Those are two of the sessions, and we had a special guest for the third.
That session, affectionately called “What Do You Think of This Widget?”—a session based around customizing your Orion® Platform dashboards to show exactly what you need—was hosted by none other than THWACK® MVP Matt Reingold. It provided a quick dive into customizing and extending your dashboards to show exactly what’s important to you. He spoke at length on how to get started with the API and gave examples of getting your feet wet. Basically, if you joined his session, you could go from zero to SWQL in a matter of minutes. After the session, I even saw him helping someone trying to get a new resource created between sessions. That’s what SWUG is about—sharing knowledge.
Thankfully, because of the way we structured sessions, attendees didn’t have to choose one or the other. We ran each session twice so attendees could participate in multiple. This allowed people to get in front of product managers, technical experts, or THWACK MVPs to ask their questions.
For this event, it was our pleasure to bring not just Matt, but two other THWACK MVPs to the podium. Closing day one, Marc Netterfield talked about how he sets up his Orion Platform deployments for as much automation as possible. His theory is if you’ve had to do it once, you’ll probably be asked to do it again. Custom properties are the (not-so-)hidden secret sauce of the Orion Platform. He showed how he uses those same custom properties to bend the alerting engine to his whim by doing his work for him. Continuing that trend, he talked about how he used those same custom properties to automatically create groups, dashboards, and alerts using a handful of scripts, which he was kind enough to share. With these examples, he was able to show how to turn all your "one-off" requests into something that can be identified, then building processes around those, which will ultimately save you a great deal of time and hassles as an Orion admin.
Then it was time to close day one with some social time and get ready for day two. For me, this was an opportunity to have dinner with some family who came up for the event.
Day two kicked off with Head Geek Leon Adato talking about talking. Or more accurately, learning yet another language to add to your arsenal. This language has been one of the most difficult I’ve ever had to learn, and I’m still not proficient. Frequently, I find myself making syntax errors or using the wrong units, but ultimately, every IT person should learn how to speak a little bit of “business.”
Then we threw it back to Brandon who spoke about the strides we’ve been making around systems and application management. Like day one, he provided overviews of the products, specifically outlining the differentiation between systems monitoring and application monitoring. The line between infrastructure monitoring and application performance monitoring is tenuous, but both are critical to understanding how your end users and systems interact.
Following up on the application monitoring topic, we had our final customer presentation of the event. THWACK MVP Ben Keen spoke about his personal journey with SolarWinds at American Eagle (Outfitters, not the airline) and how the company has benefited from a dedicated monitoring engineer. He mentioned how he inherited the monitoring infrastructure, took control of it, and covered some of the challenges he overcame given the scope of his deployment. He spoke about his last few upgrades and how he was planning on expanding it beyond the current deployment.
After another lunch break (yes, we feed you if you attend a SWUG), it was time for the day two breakout sessions. In the first room, we hosted a SolarWinds AM(a)A [Ask Me (almost) Anything]. This was a chance for the room to ask any questions whatsoever. It could be about how SolarWinds chooses new features (asked), what our recommendations are for scaling up (asked), and if we’re dog or cat people (not asked but answered all the same). This is a very similar format to what we’re doing in preparation for THWACKcamp™. We’re hosting AM(a)A sessions every few weeks leading up to the global, virtual October 16 – 17 event. Just sign up and you’ll get the invitations to those sessions.
In another room, Serena Chou spoke about how systems monitoring is more than just monitoring the individual layers of the application stack. Understanding how various systems are interconnected is sometimes more important than knowing everything about a specific layer. Pretending that systems aren’t interconnected is an exercise in futility. In addition to systems monitoring, she also has a passion for bouldering. We had a more accurate picture, but I couldn't help but using this one.
In the third room, Head Geek Patrick Hubbard made his case on how important application management is when it comes to cloud-native applications. They behave very similarly to the other applications you utilize. You just need to pivot your thinking a little bit on how you monitor them. I’d say it’s a strange new world, but that would be a lie. It’s the same world; it just needs to be viewed from a different angle.
To close out the SWUG, I once again came to the stage and spoke about alerts. I’ve talked about them before, I’ll talk about them again, and I’ll continue to talk about them until they stop being a problem for monitoring professionals. There’s so much that could and has been said about alerts, we could fill a book. I gave some of my personal recommendations and a few details on the best ways to implement them.
And that was it. Another SWUG in the books. For some of us, it was time to travel back to the office for Friday. For others (like me), it was staying on and exploring NYC a little more. For everyone, it was a great time, and we can’t wait to do it again. We even got Danielle Gaitan to participate in some fun pictures even though she's normally behind the scenes.
If you haven’t had the chance to visit us before, you still have a chance. Right on the heels of THWACKcamp, we’ll be in Chicago, Illinois: October 23-24, 2019 for the final SWUG of 2019! We’ll be bringing in more SolarWinds staff, more guest speakers, and more content that you—our community—demand.
Mark your calendars now and we look forward to seeing all of you again.