A few months ago, SolarWinds asked me to evaluate their IPAM product and to see how it compares to Microsoft’s IPAM solution that is built into Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2. In doing so, I constructed a multi-forest environment and worked through a feature by feature comparison of the two tools.


Obviously any third party product should provide functionality beyond that of the built in management tools. Otherwise what’s the point of using a third party management tool? That being the case, I’m not going to bother talking about all of the great functionality that exists within SolarWinds IPAM. I’m sure that the SolarWinds marketing staff could do a better job of that than I ever could.


What I do want to talk about is a simple question that someone asked me while I was attending Microsoft Ignite. That person said that they had heard that Microsoft IPAM really didn’t work very well and wondered if they were better off continuing to use spreadsheets for IP address management.


Here is my honest opinion on the matter:


Microsoft IPAM works, but it has a lot of limitations. For instance, a single Microsoft IPAM instance can’t manage multiple Active Directory forests and Microsoft IPAM does not work with non-Microsoft products. I think that using a third party product such as SolarWinds IPAM is clearly the best option, but if a third party management tool isn’t in the budget and you can live with Microsoft IPAM’s limitations then yes, it will work.


Having said that, there are two more things that you need to know if you are considering using Microsoft IPAM. First, even though it is relatively easy to set up Microsoft IPAM, it can be really tricky to bring your DNS and DHCP servers under management. The process is anything but intuitive and often requires some troubleshooting along the way. In fact, I recently wrote a rather lengthy article for Redmond Magazine on how to troubleshoot this process (this article will be published soon).


The second thing that you need to know is that there is a bit of a learning curve associated with using the Microsoft IPAM console. There are times when you may need to refresh the console without being told to do so. Similarly, there are some tasks that must be performed through the DNS or DHCP management consoles. It takes some time to learn all of the console’s various nuances and you may find that a third party tool makes the management process easier and more efficient.