EXT. HIGHWAY - DAY
KEVIN is driving a open-top convertible with his sunglasses on, the sun on his face. The car is moving down an empty highway and KEVIN is speaking directly to the camera.
KEVIN drives the car out of frame.
But in all seriousness, everyone’s time is precious. It’s the one commodity that will never be replenished. Our goal with this series is to offer very short tutorials on the SolarWinds products.
You might ask yourself why we are doing something like this. After all, SolarWinds has the SolarWinds Lab each month, the SolarWinds Academy with weekly classes, the SolarWinds Success Center with knowledge base articles, and THWACKcamp each year. Do we really need to have something else? To that, I say “yes.”
The thought process looked something like this: The quicker you can watch the video, quicker you get the information you need, the quicker you get the job done, the quicker you get to go home.
So, join me as with kick off with the first episode of Triple-T. It’ll be so money.
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.
One month ago (May 7), I got up at an ungodly hour, spent about four hours in a metal tube hurtling through the air, and landed feeling tired. Getting from the airport to the hotel is all a heavy-eyed blur. However, my lethargy didn’t last long, because I was in Seattle for a free SolarWinds User Group™ (SWUG™).
Hosting a SWUG frequently requires late nights and, occasionally, early mornings. Those sacrifices are small, because these events are some of the things I love most about this job. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, SWUGs are a labor of love. I won’t wax philosophical again here because I’ve already done so.
Some of us SWUG veterans still get a rush meeting with everyone and putting (user)names to faces. Your experiences fuel us and our desire to make great SolarWinds products. In addition, this year we went from a single-day event to a two-day event. Even though it’s two days of technical content, it’s still 100% free. And, we’ve doubled the number of conversations. For me, this was a welcome change.
As the emcee, I got to kick off the festivities. I spoke about how your IT problems don’t matter, only your end users do. Yes, they may feel like a plague upon your world, but, at the end of the day, they’re the reason you have your job. This is just one of the multitude of reasons you shouldn’t lose focus.
Brandon told us about everything what’s new for systems administrators and introduced everyone to a new addition to the SolarWinds portfolio. Your environments are constantly changing and expanding, and Brandon told the crowd about all the ways SolarWinds solutions help you do your job better.
Next up was Joe, who told us all about the new releases aimed at helping the network manager. He introduced the room to the newest Network Insight™ and spoke about how NetFlow can be used to isolate problems on your network. If you want to talk about network traffic flow, Joe’s your man.
After a lunch break, we threw it back to a Seattle local, Nicole, who told everyone about how SolarWinds is trying to help everyone stay on top of their security and compliance with on-premises and cloud offerings from SolarWinds. Security threats are constantly morphing and changing and it’s our job to help you be best prepared for whatever lies in your future.
After Nicole’s presentation, we were off to our separate sessions. In the main auditorium, Joe took back to the stage and Kristin joined him. The two of them spoke about how User Experience (UX) and Product Management (PM) makes the sausage software at SolarWinds. Specifically, they wanted to make sure everyone knew how critical it was to have frequent input from the community, be it through UX sessions, beta participation, or early adoption of release candidates. Our goal is to make software that’s delightful to use. We can’t do so without the involvement of the community.
In another room, Rich talked about how you can make sure your IT infrastructure is compliant based on your specific needs. Just because your organization doesn’t operate in healthcare, finance, or government, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have standards. Deviation from those standards can lead to configuration drift (both on network devices and servers) and make everyone’s life more complicated when something goes awry. With his expertise, Rich showed you how to navigate those waters and how best to wrangle these issues with SolarWinds products.
In the final room, it was my turn to tell everyone why they should feel bad because their dashboards are bad. I provided a methodology for building good dashboards and introduced everyone to the people and places to find more information. I also showed an example of how to craft the excellent, yet elusive, “executive” dashboard.
And so, we all retired for dinner and drinks. Another SWUG in the books, right? Not so fast. We still have another whole day left and there was some work to do in the interim.
Overnight, we opened a forum for people to submit questions to the SolarWinds AMA (Ask Me Anything) for the following day, but more on that later. For most of us, we grabbed some seafood, had a drink, and did some prep work and got ready for the second day.
To kick off the second day, Head Geek™ Thomas LaRock told us all about how bad job postings are and are not our own fault. The logical progression of your career has ramifications on what you think of as your job description. Think about it this way: even if your title doesn’t change, the job you do today is very different from your job last year. As you take on more responsibilities, new lines appear in your job description. That bad description might be your fault, but at least you’ll enjoy the ride.
Then I came back on stage for a tried and true session about alert tuning. I spoke a little bit about how monitoring is not the same as alerting and although monitoring everything is a good thing, alerting on everything is a very, very, very bad thing. The elements of a “good” alert can be elusive. I provided some tips and tricks on moving from alerting to good alerting.
Following me to the stage, in her first ever SWUG appearance, we had Ashelena share all the resources available to SolarWinds customers. Everyone already knows about THWACK®, but how many people knew about the Customer Success Center or Orange Matter or the SolarWinds Academy? Ashelena clued everyone into the resources we, as a company, offer our customers. Growing in your knowledge shouldn’t be a solo journey, so allow us to help.
Then it was time for the SolarWinds AMA (Ask Me Anything). Taking questions posed the night before and taking questions live in the room, the SolarWinds staff spoke about anything. Why was this thing included in that feature? Why doesn’t this thing support my device? How would you recommend doing this thing my company needs? Long story short, it was a great session and we’ll be including it in future SWUGs.
When we broke for lunch the questions didn’t stop, which is just one of the things that’s great about attending a SolarWinds User Group. You get the chance to ask the questions most important to you of the decisionmakers at SolarWinds. It’s like a big red phone directly to the top.
Like day 1, the second day’s afternoon was broken up for individual sessions.
In the main auditorium, we were once again entranced as Tom spoke about the best way to cut through the noise in your monitoring data. Is this something I should be concerned by, or is this just a small blip in the status quo? Understanding and identifying the difference can help you stop chasing the red herring.
Chris is one of our most experienced Technical Advisors and spoke in multiple sessions about how to scale your monitoring solution from a proof-of-concept install to a global monitoring solution. As your environment grows and evolves, your monitoring solution needs to scale with you. In recent years, migrating to a hybrid-cloud or adopting a cloud-first methodology are just a few of the ways environments grow. Chris has been helping customers scale up and out for years, so he was a logical pick for speaking with customers about all the details on how to best scale for their needs.
One of the highlights of the event was a presentation by THWACK MVP Liam Luther. Although camera-shy, Liam showed attendees how he got into hacking the Orion® Platform for his own fun and profit, including examples he’s made over the years. In the two weeks since the event, he hasn’t slowed down and added ways to bring even more customizations to the Orion Platform. It was such a hit, we’ll be having other THWACK MVPs proctor their own sessions at more SWUGs this year.
If you asked me the morning I left, if SWUG is worth the long hours and lack of sleep, I might have said “no.” If you asked me the same question after greeting the first attendee, I would have laughed in your face. For me, it’s always worth it to get in touch with our customers.
For those of you who were able to join us at the Seattle SolarWinds User Group, thank you for attending. We had a great time meeting with everyone and look forward to speaking with you again. If you missed us in Seattle, then the good news is we’ll be traveling to San Diego for a Customer Appreciation Event at Cisco Live on June 11, New York on July 10-11, and Chicago on October 23-24. Sign up now for any of these free events and encourage your colleagues to do the same. One thing I’ve heard most often in the post-SWUG days is people wish they’d brought their coworkers with them.
The SolarWinds User Group is what community is all about. Collectively we’re smarter than any of us individually.
Now it’s time for this SWUG attendee to catch up on some sleep.
Let me tell you a story about plumbing.
As a young homeowner, I was house-rich and cash-poor, and because of that I needed to handle breakdowns myself as much as possible. I learned to do electrical work, cabling, drywall, basic carpentry, and plumbing. Of them all, I found the greatest satisfaction with plumbing work. Sweating copper pipes together was elegant, utilitarian, and beautiful. Not all joints were the same, so there were challenges to overcome each time, but a clean weld and a solid seal was a mark of satisfaction. There were a handful of tools that took care of most of my problems; a few pipe wrenches, a hacksaw, a pipe cutter, flux, a blowtorch, a bucket, and a mess of couplers were enough to tackle a majority of my issues. The bucket was multi-use. It could be used for when there was a leak, or as a receptacle for my tears when things went badly.
Then things changed. I’m not a tradesman, so I can’t say exactly why this change happened, but the next time I needed to do work, there was a new infrastructure that was taking over. The aisles that were outfitted with row upon row of shiny copper pipe were being replaced with bland white tubes and flexible colored bundles. My jobs didn’t change; I still needed to get water from one place to another without a bucket, but my materials were different.
Like all skills I’ve picked up, I needed to start learning new approaches. Since the objective didn’t change, but the approach and the materials have, there was a learning curve but with the same goal in mind. A new infrastructure and implementation philosophy had its own nuances. Flux was out, to be replaced with inline couplers or chemical cements. Cutting was relegated to special slicing tools. Supporting new plumbing codes, using new techniques that shortened the time it took to accomplish a task. Everything about it changed, except the goal—getting water from one place to another, getting it there quickly and at the right temperature (a temperature requirement that is always changing). Thankfully, the bucket stayed the same.
You may ask yourself, how is moving from copper to CPVC or PEX anything at all like working in IT? Well, although the infrastructure may have changed, your job has remained the same: to provide services to your end user regardless of where their services reside. You could be working with a team that is containerizing everything or a team that’s shifted everything to a cloud platform, but none of that matters. Making sure that the end users can do their job is your job.
Where and how the user does their work is immaterial. Realistically, it doesn’t matter where the work is done, be that on a bunch of physical servers, within a plethora of virtual servers, in a private cloud, hybrid cloud, public cloud, or within a SaaS solution. In that light we’ve added the Cloud Management forums to THWACK. It’s the work that’s valuable to your organization and why you have a job. The tool and the approach that was right last year may not be the same for the next year. This is why SolarWinds® AppOptics™, Loggly®, Papertrail™, and Pingdom® share the spotlight with products like Network Performance Monitor and Server & Application Manager. You can easily take what you know, combine it with your years of experience, and apply them to this new emerging IT environment, armed with tools that are purpose-built for the new plumbing.
New approaches, tools, and skills never, ever replace your existing skillset; they just supplement it. That’s what makes for great IT professionals. There are times when I’ve had to go back and sweat copper while helping a friend or replacing an old water softener. Your legacy skills and tools are just as viable, but you need to know when and how to use them.
So, don’t be afraid to think about picking up some new tools and taking a different approach to solve problems that are ultimately the same as before—helping your users do their jobs—on some new infrastructure. The skills you picked up in your past are valuable, useful, and reduce the learning curve when challenged with something totally new. Your skills, those which help you work through problems from a multitude of angles, are the ones needed with any new infrastructure.
But if there’s one thing I can recommend, it would be to not forget the bucket.
Let’s begin with a personal invitation to each and everyone one of you to join us in 2019 for one of our SolarWinds User Groups (SWUG™). This year, we’re traveling to Atlanta, Seattle, New York, and Chicago. For 2019, like years past, it’s all about building bridges, tearing down walls, expanding communications, and fostering the best community in IT. The 2019 SWUGs will feature two days of sessions, including keynotes from SolarWinds executives, Head Geeks™, and others, open spaces for attendee-led meetings, community-requested sessions, multiple topic-centric tracks, interactive sessions, and much, much more.
You may ask yourself why SolarWinds has made these changes. Well, it’s largely in result to our previous attendees’ feedback. You asked for more technical deep-dive sessions, more interactive sessions, more how-to sessions, and more interaction with the attendees in the room – and we heard you. If you’re taking time out of your busy schedule to be a part of an event, then it’s our job to make this event as informative and educational as possible.
If you’ve attended a SWUG in the past, you know that we have always packed the day with content, but it just wasn’t enough. Therefore, we’ve gone to two days. We also realize that not every session resonates with every person. With that in mind, we’re relying on you, the community, to tell us more about the sessions you want. You get to direct our track-based content. Our concentration is to make the sessions and content more diverse and community-driven.
The short answer is that it’s over 16 hours of educational content provided by SolarWinds professionals for free. That’s what you see on paper, but what you get by attending this in-person event is so much more. What we’re offering in a SWUG is opportunity: opportunity to speak with SolarWinds staff about the software, opportunity to interact with other IT professionals in your area of expertise, opportunity to influence the future direction of solutions in your environment, and opportunity to customize your experience and the content to your needs.
The thing that I’ve enjoyed the most about being part of the SWUG journey over the last few years is meeting the community. Although I’ve been with SolarWinds for a few years now, I haven’t forgotten my roots—as part of the community of users who utilized SolarWinds solutions to do my job better. My favorite interaction was always someone who brought up their manager or their co-worker and, together, we helped show them how we could help fix that one problem that’s been a pain point for some time. The power of SWUG is in a room full of other professionals to answer your questions. Although each environment is different, many of the problems we encounter have some level of commonality. At a SWUG, you are surrounded by hundreds of people whose role is like yours—in essence, a community.
The super power of the THWACK® community is – and always has been – the diversity of its members. That diversity, coupled with everyone’s different IT specialties, makes for an engaging and, frequently, entertaining place to spend your time. In 2015, we began with an experiment: what would happen if we brought some THWACK members and some SolarWinds staff into a room and got them to interact with each other in real life? It seemed like a success. Like all scientists, we expanded on our hypothesis and tested it again.
This little experiment became the SolarWinds User Group, or SWUG. In 2016, we traveled to nine locations around these United States doing the same experiment. For a period of a half a day, we got everyone together and spoke with them about monitoring things better with SolarWinds. And what’s the purpose of having excellent monitoring? Finding the root cause quickly, helping you diagnose issues rapidly, which is key to giving you your weekends back.
Taking our cue from the scientific method, we took our results, analyzed what we found, and determined the next steps for our experimentation. In 2017, we moved from half-days to full days and extended the reach—both in scope and in locations. We traveled all over the world, meeting people who ranged in title from monitoring professionals, to network engineers, to systems administrators, to security professionals, and more. Building relationships among the community has been my favorite part of being with SolarWinds. Meeting more people and hearing your stories has been a highlight of my career.
In 2018, we scaled up once again and visited eleven cities around the world, hosting SWUGs to get to know the community better. One thing that we realized in our whirlwind tour over the last four years was that high technology people actually like talking to other high technology people. The THWACK community is more than just an online community, it is a community in the truest sense—made up of individuals, each with their own experiences, skills, and knowledge.
In previous years, we’ve heard that we weren’t talking enough about this or we skipped that other thing entirely. Much of that was because we didn’t have the time. The next logical step was to get more of the community together and tailor the content to your requests.
It’s now 2019, and it’s time to take the results of the last four years, refine our hypothesis, and test it again. This year, we will be moving to two days of content with more people, more sessions, more interaction, and more—basically—everything.
SWUG 2019 by the numbers:
Register now to join me and other SolarWinds professionals in a city near you for a great 2019.