Reducing the Upgrade Blues

Posted by veroa Employee May 24, 2016

We’ve been talking with many of you over the years and from some of those conversations we know that upgrade days, or rather, nights and weekends, aren’t really your favorite part of your job. Also, we’ve learned that SolarWinds Orion product upgrades haven’t been as easy as they could be.


With the upcoming release of NPM 12 we decided to focus on improving the Orion upgrade experience. Check out some of the initiatives we’ve worked on and why, and learn how you can help us as we continue to look for ways to improve your upgrade experience with SolarWinds Orion products.



Our initial objective for the upgrade project was to baseline the upgrade process in the real world. We interviewed dozens of Orion users who had recently upgraded and asked questions such as, “How/where do you find out there is a new version of your SolarWinds product?”; “When you find out there is a new version, where do you go to find out more and what do you do next?”


You told us there were three top pain points when upgrading: planning, execution, and cleanup. For planning, we learned that information wasn’t centrally located; most of you use Release Notes at some point, but there were gaps in the data they provided, and that it wasn’t always easy to answer the question “is upgrading worthwhile?” A big theme for the execution and cleanup phases was that upgrading generally isn’t so much difficult as it’s tedious, time-consuming, and manual. For large customers, dealing with multiple products and additional polling engines only compounds the issue.



We ran surveys with hundreds of users and validated that the pain points were true for most. Then, we were off to problem-solving land!  We created multiple versions of new content, tested it with users, made changes, and started the process all over again until we were confident that we were providing content that really addressed the pain points. We also worked with individual users to review current installations “in the wild” to look for opportunities to reduce time to upgrade and automate where we could.



To help you with the planning phase of your upgrade experience, we worked on enhancing the release notes by highlighting key features and gotchas, providing an upgrade guide/checklist, including new feature technical overviews, as well as version comparison content and training videos on new features.


Enhanced Release Notes



When you’re actually doing the upgrading, you’ll be able to take advantage of over 100 automatic system checks and compatibility checks that let you know prior to installation when certain things might be blockers. If we find a potential problem, we even tell you what to do to fix it. For example: if you’re running antivirus, we check for that and recommend you turn it off on your Orion main poller.


We also took a hard look at the performance of installs—literally, how long it takes users to install the bits for an upgrade (or for that matter, a new install). Our intrepid dev team has done some behind-the-scenes tuning, so you should experience faster performance during the actual installation.


Take a look at what's new and how to upgrade to NPM 12.



Below are some comments from users who have seen all of these changes:


"I wish we had this when we were upgrading from 10.5"


" . . . this really covers everything I need to know about upgrading. Everything is in once place. It used to be I had a list of features, then I had to go somewhere else for upgrade instruction, somewhere else for gotchas, somewhere else for troubleshooting. This has everything in one page and I like that."


I’ll be sending these links to my boss and coworkers.


"I like (the new Release Notes); the layout is nice and clean, I like the pictures on it, keep up the good work!"



And of course, so much more is in the works! As always (you all should know what’s coming by now), we never solve every problem, and we never will make perfect software or perfect experiences… but we always strive to do better! Which is where YOU come in.  If you haven’t already, use the big button below to sign up for UX feedback sessions. You’ll get a chance to provide feedback and influence product, feature, and customer experiences that are in the works. If you’ve already upgraded or gone through RC, check in here and let us know what your experience was like. Your feedback is very valuable to us!



Last year, we wrote a post about the Orion User Interface (UI) Refresh in which we shared with you some changes to the look and feel of Orion you could expect to see in upcoming releases, such as reducing the visual noise and clutter to better help you focus on ‘the big red things’ that should draw your attention.


As part of that effort, we in the SolarWinds User Experience (UX) team have relied heavily on input from you, our users, to help us identify where we were on track, and where we needed to course-correct. Come take a tour with us and learn about some of the changes that were made based on feedback from hundreds of users like you over the past year and a half!


Baselining the old UI

A basic tenet of our process is to really understand what’s working for users and what isn’t before we make any changes. We knew the UI was tired and dated, and we knew there were many underlying problems to solve, but we wanted to better understand what problems we should solve for and what use cases we should support. We interviewed users and took tours of real environments ‘in the wild’, ran focus groups over the phone, and met with key internal stakeholders like sales engineers, support and others who engage with users every day to ask for their input on what we should focus on. Out of that came this:


Solving the problems

Once we had our marching orders, we began investigating solutions. Visual design ideas had been percolating in our heads for a while, so we tackled that problem first. We mocked up a few key pages into an interactive prototype and asked users to take a look, and then take a survey to let us know their thoughts. Initial feedback let us know we were on the right track, but that we had some readability and contrast issues to solve. More changes were made, and more surveys went out until we felt confident that the new design would reduce visual noise, still allow good information density, and ensure easy readability.


Navigation took longer to solve for. We did card sorting activities where we asked users to group pages and name each group. We came up with four fully-coded navigation prototypes and watched users do tasks on each one. Then, we compared the time it took users to complete tasks on each one, and we collected comments on preference on each as well. We updated each navigation prototype and ran the same activity again. Lastly (or so we thought), we ran internal focus groups with sales, support, and other key audiences to fine-tune the chosen navigation scheme so we could finalize it.


Ta-da! (or not?)



Our new visual design and navigation scheme (above) addressed many of the problems we set out to solve. The visual design frees up space and allows the design to breathe, making it less intimidating for new or evaluation users, while preserving good data density for existing users.


In all activities with users, the most common word we heard to describe the new visual design was “sleek.” We successfully reduced the space that the navigation bar took, made navigation task-based and not product-based (notice Alerts, Reports, and Settings are right there in the top level navigation!), and got rid of that annoying problem of having second level navigation targets disappear when users scrolled off the appropriate first-level navigation. Users can still find everything they used to find under product tabs by clicking the My Dashboards menu (see screenshot below).


Were we done?—As it turns out, no. Late feature walkthroughs of the whole enchilada (navigation and design) exposed a problem. We had focused navigation efforts on targeting the far more prevalent use case of users with 3 or fewer Orion-based products. But users who had more than 3 products felt overwhelmed by what one called “the wall of black” that they saw when mousing over My Dashboards.


The solution? –Give users a choice of menu style. For users with 4 or fewer tabs in their primary navigation in Orion Platform version 2015.1.2 or earlier, the My Dashboards navigation defaults to show all menu items expanded (like the image above). For users with more than 4 tabs, we default to show each menu item individually expanded when moused over (like the screenshot below). Users can switch to whatever version they prefer, by selecting Expand or Collapse in the blue link at the bottom of My Dashboards.



Moving forward

We’ve done lots of work with users to validate the changes we made, but we know there is always room for improvement.  And, we have big plans moving forward!  When you get a chance to experience the new changes in any of the Orion products in June 2016, feel free to let us know what you think.  And if you’d like to take part in feedback sessions where you too can help shape the future of Orion products, sign up below!



We have reached the Release Candidate (RC) status for Storage Resource Monitor (SRM) 6.3. RC is the last step before general availability and is a chance for existing customers to get the newest functionality before it is available to everyone else.


This RC contains the following enhancements:

  • Support for EMC XtremIO arrays
  • Support for Pure Storage arrays (Purity 4.6 or above required)
  • Refreshed user interface


New Metrics with All-Flash Arrays (AFA's)

The use of very fast flash memory instead of spinning disks is not the only benefit that comes with all-flash arrays. Many (but not all) models provide the user with interesting advanced features such as data de-duplication, compression, and thin provisioning. In order to monitor and report relevant information about the flash array, we extended and/or modified some of the reported statistics, alerts, etc.

The below information applies to both EMC XtremIO and Pure Storage arrays.


Capacity Reporting



Let's take a look at storage array capacity summary resources. Because of the nature of disk space management, Raw Capacity and Total Used Capacity will always be the same for AFA's. They represent sum of physical sizes of all memory modules (e.g. SSD's).


Usable Capacity Summary is more interesting: Total Usable Capacity means sum of user data space on all memory modules (disks).

  • Data Reduction is the ratio of actually used volume capacity to used physical capacity in the cluster. In the picture below, the reduction is 3:1, which means that e.g. 300 GB of user data only occupies 100 GB physical capacity after deduplication. It's one of the most important parameters for capacity planning.
  • Total Reduction also takes compression and thin provisioning into account, but its interpretation is not so straightforward.


Further details are reported on storage pool level:


  • Total Usable Capacity -- Total user data space on all memory modules (SSDs)
  • Total Subscribed -- Capacity of all LUNs after the data reduction (SUM(Lun.CapacityTotal) / Data Reduction))
  • Provisioned -- Amount of user data space in use
  • Over-Subscribed -- Total Subscribed minus Total Usable Capacity


Monitor Your EMC XtremIO Arrays



The latencies with AFA's are much lower that for disk-based arrays.



Monitor Your Pure Storage Arrays



Enjoy the New UI Design

If you kept reading up to this point, you have probably noticed that the user interface looks a little different than in the past. SRM is not the only module that benefits from this improvement shipped by the Orion Platfrom (Core). We wish you a pleasant experience.


RC builds are made available to existing customers prior to the formal release. These are used to get customer feedback in production environments and are fully supported. If you have any questions, I encourage you to leverage the SRM RC forum.


You will find the latest version on your customer portal in the Release Candidate section.

UPDATE: NPM 12 has landed! 


It took longer than usual to build this release but I can honestly say this is our biggest release in yearsNPM 12 is almost ready.



NetPath started as something we were fiddling with in the lab.  We came up with some really cool tech tidbits like:

  • Discovering the entire, complex path that connects users to services far, far away on the Internet.  Often dozens and sometimes hundreds of routers, links, and servers.
  • Quantifying the performance of every node and every link.
  • Correlating hop by hop performance on a node or link that is used for a portion of the traffic to the end-to-end performance experienced by users.
  • Determining what portion of latency is healthy and what portion is unhealthy.  That way, we can correctly mark a link between two routers in the same building as unhealthy when it takes 7ms and mark a transcontinental link that takes 30ms as healthy.
  • Reliably mimicking application traffic so we are allowed through firewalls and treated with QOS just like application traffic is.
Early NetPath.png

At the end of the day, tools should make problems easier to understand and solve.  As Network Engineers, we know there will never be a troubleshooting easy button, but our tools should always be aspiring to achieve that goal.Today, NetPath is our very best first attempt to reach toward that goal.  Today, NetPath looks like this:

NetPath Today.png

As NetPath strives to make network problems faster and easier to solve, we're super excited to see how it impacts your view of the network and how you solve network problems.



Network Insight for F5 BIG IP

Network Insight for F5 BIG IP provides deep, relationship aware monitoring of your F5 LTMs and GTMs (BIG-IP DNS). We get new metrics like concurrent connections by pool member and health monitor status. Most importantly, we are able to relate a single component to all of the dependent components. Or enumerate all of the components that must be working for a single service to work. is pretty important to us. We want to know fast if there is a problem, and what it is!


Network Insight for F5 Load Balancers - Mini Stack.png


UI Refresh

The UI for NPM and all other Orion based products has been refreshed. This includes two key changes.


First, we've rebuilt the top menu bar to minimize the space it uses, make navigation easier, and surface important features that are shared across several products, for example alerts and reports.

Menu Bar - Highlight.png


Second, we've reskinned the rest of the pages. This means colors and styles have been changed, but the function of the page is the same. Your cheese hasn't moved, it's just a different color! (hopefully that's good)

New UI Skin.png

The goal here is a clean UI that makes it easy to focus on things that really need your attention. This overhaul also provides a path to our truly next generation UI, the first of which can be seen in NetPath.


Improved Cisco Switch Stack Monitoring

Cisco switch stacks have a layer of technology beyond a simple fixed switch that allows the stack to act as a single logical entity. This release makes it easy to understand, monitor, alert, and troubleshoot on that layer of technology. NPM can:

  • List the member switches, and alert you upon membership changes.
  • Identify the master and backup master switches.
  • Discover CPU, RAM, and hardware health for each individual member.
  • Visualize the stack ring and identify partial failures.


Switch Stack - Highlight.png


And More!

ServiceNow integration, stackable poller scalability improvements, installation optimization, install pre-flight checks, built in upgrade path advisor, AD integration for discovery, auto-import from discoveries, and so much more. We can't wait to show you the rest! In the mean time, what looks most interesting to you?


Check out all the goodies in the Release Notes and get upgradedAnd be sure to check out the video at the NPM 12 microsite!

I'm happy to share with you, that we reached GA milestone for Web Help Desk (WHD) 12.4. Focus of this release was mainly security and stability of the application. Namely


Security improvements

  • Improved security across the application for FIPS-mode SSL connections, namely
    • HTTP over SSL connections
    • Microsoft® Exchange, IMAP, POP3, and SMTP over SSL
    • WMI and other asset discovery connections over SSL
    • LDAP over SSL
    • SolarWinds® Network Performance Monitor (NPM), Systems and Applications Monitor (SAM), and Network Configuration Monitor (NCM) integration over SSL
  • User password hashes, integration password hashes, and other static data such as database custom fields and stored credentials
  • Detection and indication of system cryptography status
  • Automatic migration of all stored passwords for stronger and more secure cryptography


Support for FIPS 140-2 compatible cryptography

For environments where high security standards are required, you can install and configure FIPS 140-2 compatible cryptography to achieve your required level of regulation compliance. The user interface includes a password migration tool to help you migrate techs and clients to FIPS-secure passwords.


Additional improvements

  • Smarter backup rotations in the Virtual Appliance
  • Oracle® Java™ 8 support
  • Over 100 bug fixes that hugely improve the stability of the application


Now go and download web help desk from your customer portal or


PS. If you want to get excited about what is coming next (we are already busily working on new stuff) sign up for upcoming Beta here.

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