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We've all been there at some point or another. For some of us it's a daily ritual, for others, it's what haunts our dreams at night.

 

I'm speaking, of course, about troubleshooting complex multi-faceted IT issues which can (and often do) transcend functional silos within the overarching IT organization. Cloud, virtualization, hybrid IT, storage area networks, converged infrastructure etc., have all fundamentally transformed IT. Tasks which historically may have taken hours or even days, now take minutes, and some just seconds to complete. These historically, time consuming tasks have become so easy, in fact, that in some organizations they're fully or at least partially automated.

 

The story doesn't end at the infrastructure either. Instead of monolithic, single purpose, do everything, application servers; distributed application architectures, elasticity, and containerization have increasingly becoming the norm. While all these abstraction layers have helped address application scalability and availability, they have also made it significantly more difficult for those monitoring the health and performance of everything which contributes to the delivery of the services those applications provide.

 

The troubleshooting process itself is more entangled than ever before, often times requiring collaboration amongst many different functional silos within the organization. From the storage administrator, DBA, Virtualization admin, cloud architect, application designer, network engineer, DevOps, systems administrators, etc., the finger pointing begins right away. But where to begin? The Orion® Platform and its related product modules such as Network Performance Monitor, Server & Application Monitor, etc., can collect millions of different metrics from across the entirety of the IT environment. That's an overwhelming amount of data to parse through as the clock is ticking; the pressure mounts, and your SLA is hanging in the balance.

 

Many Orion administrators have created elaborate, purpose-built, custom summary dashboards, comprising many various chart resources to help consolidate relevant information related to specific business critical services and to aid in troubleshooting scenarios. The issues with this approach are varied. First, depending upon the complexity and elaborateness of the custom dashboard, the creation process can be both tedious and time consuming. Second, only those with Orion View Management rights have the necessary permissions required to build or modify these custom summary dashboards, placing a tremendous burden on the Orion administrator and making them the bottleneck for efficient troubleshooting. Third, there's the issue of maintaining these custom summary dashboards. Some larger organizations may have dozens or even hundreds of these for various business services, and if not properly maintained to reflect changes made throughout the organization, these dashboards become less and less useful for their intended purpose.

 

From the end-user's perspective, these dashboards help eliminate the need to navigate through a various multitude of views and dashboards in search of data needed to isolate the root cause. Provided, of course, the issue they're investigating occurred within the default time period shown within the chart resources. If it didn't, then the end-user must click on each chart resource individually to be taken to the Custom Chart View, where they can adjust the timeframe shown to the timeframe desired for that specific chart. This then defeats the entire purpose of the custom summary dashboard as a means to visually correlate data more easily for the specific time period when the issue occurred.

 

Enter PerfStack

 

With the release of Network Performance Monitor 12.1 RC1, and the impending release of Server & Application Monitor 6.4 RC1 comes a completely new method for visualizing and correlating data within the Orion web interface. We affectionately refer to this as 'PerfStack'. In part, the name represents the newfound performance analysis and correlation capabilities this feature brings to the Orion® Platform, enriched with relationship data which powers AppStack. The culmination of time series and relationship data is what sets PerfStack apart, allowing you to quickly sift through the massive amounts of data Orion products collect, eliminating noise, and allowing you to focus on what's truly relevant to the issue at hand.

 

Immediately upon upgrading to any of our latest release candidates you will notice a new option available under the 'Home' menu, entitled 'Performance Analysis', which will take you to the new PerfStack dashboard. By default, you will begin with a new analysis project, whereby you will need to start by adding at least one entity. In the throes of an active investigation into an ongoing issue,   the entity selected would typically be the one exhibiting the symptom. This could be the switch, router, virtual machine, host, (AKA: node), or something more specific like the application, LUN, array, or web transaction, to name only a few of the possibilities. Choose whatever the most logical starting point is in your investigation and note that you can add as many entities as you wish to your analysis project.

 

Performance Analysis Menu OptionAdd Entities
Performance Analysis.pngAdd Entities.png

 

Select Entities

 

 

Once you’ve added your entity/s to PerfStack, hovering your mouse over any of those entities in the list, you will notice two icons that appear to the right of the entity name. When clicked, the first icon brings in all other entities related to that object. This leverages existing AppStack relationship data, as well as additional relationship information not currently expressed within AppStack. This includes items such as Hardware Health sensors, network Interfaces, IIS™ Sites, application pools, etc. Relationship information within PerfStack allows you to dramatically accelerate the troubleshooting process and focus exclusively on what's likely related to the issue at hand. This prevents you from fumbling about, wasting time manually trying to figure out how things are related on your own.

 

Add Related EntitiesAvailable Metrics

 

Clicking on any entity name itself populates a list of all available metrics associated with that entity in the adjacent column. These metrics are categorized into collapsed groupings based on their type, any of which can be expanded to reveal individual metric tiles. These tiles can then be dragged onto the chart area on the right where the metric data is plotted.

 

 

 

Add as many metrics to the chart area as you desire. You can add multiple metrics to the same chart, as well as stack multiple charts on top of each other. PerfStack is also capable of combining data from disparate data sources into the same chart. For example, combine Storage Resource Monitor's LUN IOPS data with Network Performance Monitor's network latency and bandwidth data into the same chart to troubleshoot iSCSI performance issues. A feat never before possible within the Orion® Platform family of products.

 

Correlate Metrics Across Different Orion Product Modules
Multi-Product Chart.png

 

PerfStack also allows you to combine integer-based metrics with percentage-based metrics while maintaining the appropriate scale. This is accomplished by maintaining two separate x-axes when metrics of dissimilar types are combined within the same chart.

 

Combine Metrics of Dissimilar Units Within The Same Chart
Integer Pecent.png

 

Data for all metrics displayed within the chart area are automatically aligned across the same time period. Hovering your mouse over any chart area adds a vertical marker which tracks with your mouse movement to visually align all data points across the series. It also displays the date and time that datapoint was collected. As you move your mouse horizontally across the time period of the chart area, the values within the legend update to reflect the values aligned to the vertical marker.

 

 

The viewable time period can be adjusted globally, maintaining sync across all charts in PerfStack. Both relative and custom timeframes are available, allowing you to view things such as the last seven days of history, or focus on a particular event that occurred between 8am - 6pm last Tuesday, for example.

 

Adjust Time RangeSave your Masterpiece

 

Once you've completed your masterpiece, you can optionally save it for future reference. Charted metrics, the entities they're derived from, and the custom or relative time frame are all included as part of your saved project. Saved PerfStack projects can be loaded just as easily as they were saved with a top five most recently used PerfStack list making juggling between projects a snap. You can also save a copy of a project using Save As, or delete PerfStack projects you no longer need from within the More menu.

 

Load Saved PerfStack MRUDelete & Save As

 

Each individual Orion user can create, save, load, update, and delete their own works of art within PerfStack. Also, users aren't required to have Orion 'Admin' or 'View Management' rights to do so, either. Any Orion user can create as many PerfStack dashboards as they wish and manage them independently without assistance from the Orion Admin; something I'm sure is music to the ears of every Orion administrator.

 

Sharing is Caring

 

The most powerful PerfStack feature of all is the ability to collaborate with others within your IT organization; breaking down the silo walls and allowing teams to triage and troubleshoot problems across functional areas. Anything built in PerfStack is sharable. The only requirement is that the individual you're sharing with has the ability to login to the Orion web interface. Sharing is as simple as copying the URL in your browser and pasting it into email, IM, or even a helpdesk ticket.

 

 

When received, the URL provided allows others to instantly see exactly what you've found. They, in turn, can work from that URL, add their own metrics, and send it back without ever affecting your project. Similar behavior is also true if you wish to share a saved PerfStack. Sharing saved PerfStack projects with others allows the recipient access to view your saved PerfStack dashboard and any updates you may make to it in the future. Other users cannot modify your saved PerfStack project, but they can save their own copy, update it as needed, and share back their results.

 

Orion account limitations are fully respected by PerfStack, so there's no need to worry about users gaining access to information they shouldn't. If for any reason, a user should receive a link to a PerfStack project containing objects not permitted by their account restrictions, then any/all metrics related to those restricted objects would be automatically hidden from that user's perspective of the PerfStack project.

 

Coming Soon to a Theater (Monitor) Near You

 

PerfStack is a feature provided with all upcoming Orion product releases which are built atop Orion Platform v2017.1 or later. The list of supported modules include (but not limited to)...

 

  • Network Performance Monitor 12.1
  • Server & Application Monitor 6.4
  • NetFlow Traffic Analyzer 4.2.2
  • Virtualization Manager 7.x
  • Storage Resource Monitor 6.4
  • Web Performance Monitor 2.2.1

 

SolarWinds PerfStack Analysis Dashboard was engineered to allow Orion users to troubleshoot, isolate, and identify IT problems in ways never before possible. As our IT environments evolve, so too must the tools we use to monitor them. Cross silo collaboration is an essential ingredient to any successful IT organization, now and for the foreseeable future. PerfStack, like NetPath before it, are just tiny glimpses into what we have in store for the future of Orion, and we sincerely hope you like what you see.

It is with a heavy heart that I announce the End of Life of SolarWinds Alert Central. Alert Central was an attempt to build on something that you, our users and customers, knew us well for, free tools. The idea was to expand on the free tools concept and build something much bigger, an entirely free product.

 

When we were building Alert Central, cloud based applications were still few and far between, more marketing than reality. So we built Alert Central as a virtual appliance. This was great if you were familiar with that technology or worked closely with your virtual administrator. The experience was very similar to what you would get with SaaS; no need to worry about dependencies or install failures, just start it up and go. Obviously there has been a lot of change in this market over the last 3-5 years. Both in the underlying cloud services available to build applications, but also general acceptance from the market on cloud based applications.

 

If we were building this product today, we wouldn’t be asking your thoughts on virtual appliances as a deployment mechanism, we would be asking you about cloud or on-prem. We believe this use case is best fulfilled by a cloud based solution. This is a large factor in our decision to both stop development of Alert Central and also where the silver lining is. When we surveyed the market and worked with our IT Operations team, we quickly realized that there was company that stood above the rest, OpsGenie.

So I’m pleased to announce, SolarWinds and OpsGenie are partnering!

 

OpsGenie is a cloud based alert and incident management solutions for dev and operations teams. We believe OpsGenie has done a great job at solving these problems. In fact, they’ve done such a great job that our internal IT Ops team has already moved to them. Our free product was good and had a lot of fans, but we want to make sure our customers have the right long term solution, and that’s OpsGenie.

 

If you are using Alert Central today, what does this all mean for you? Well, for starters, nobody is going to come in and take away Alert Central from you. Since it’s a free product, there is no licensing or code that will turn off or stop working. However, OpsGenie has gone to great lengths to make sure that existing Alert Central customers will be taken care of, so we recommend switching sooner rather than later. They are aware that many of our customers are using a free product today so don’t necessarily have budget to buy a replacement solution. To that end, they have agreed to offer a special free tier for existing SolarWinds Alert Central users.

 

SolarWinds Lite Plan (Free)

  • Up to five (5) users
  • Email and SolarWinds NPM integrations
  • Email, mobile push notifications
  • 10 SMS notifications per user per month
  • Heartbeat monitoring

 

There will certainly be some customers that are larger shops or see the value in the advanced functionality that comes with the full OpsGenie platform. For those users, OpsGenie has created special pricing as well.

 

SolarWinds Pro Plan ($120/user/year or $12/user/month)

  • Email, SolarWinds NPM and chat integrations
  • On-call schedules, teams and escalations
  • Email, mobile push notifications
  • 100 SMS and phone notifications per user per month (U.S. only)
  • 25 SMS and phone notifications per user per month (International)

 

I’m guessing you can see why we were so happy to partner with OpsGenie. Not only do they have a great product, a product that our internal team loves, but they also understand what it means to take care of our customers.

 

We will be hosting a webinar on January 18, 2017 at 2:00pm EST where our Director of IT Operations will show you how our internal team migrated from Alert Central to OpsGenie. We will show you how things were done in Alert Central, and how you will do them with OpsGenie. We will also be providing documentation that should help with this transition at  https://www.opsgenie.com/solarwinds-alert-central

 

Saying goodbye is always hard so we hope saying hello at the same time will make it easier. Ultimately, we believe you will be much happier and more productive with this solution so let us know how we can help with this transition.

Register for webinar here: http://opsgenie.com/webinars/solarwinds-alert-central-transition-to-opsgenie

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