An Adventure Into Modern Dashboarding: Presentation and Feedback

Part 1 and 2 Recap

As we conclude this short series looking into my adventure of introducing Modern Dashboards and my personal crash course into SWQL queries, this part will provide some of the feedback I received from my supervisor, director, and other key stakeholders in my production environment. 

In Part 1, I cover the basics of using SWQL Studio to get the data you want, in the format you want, and making the queries readable for humans.

In Part 2, I built my first Modern Dashboard meant to be shared with my IT management team. I cover the different types of widgets and how you can do some data formatting to make the presentation of data easy to consume.

Modern Dashboards – Limitations

While these new Modern Dashboards are great, there are a few noteworthy things we should discuss. Please note, these limits exist for Orion Platform 2020.2.6 and could change in future releases. Be sure to review the release notes of any updates.

  • Since Modern Dashboards are their own architecture, they cannot be added as an additional tab (subview) to another view, like you can with a classic dashboard.
  • This same limitation prevents them from being setup as a NOC view.
  • Modern Dashboards cannot be assigned as the default view (first page they land on) to an account without some clever HTML redirecting.
  • Because the Modern Dashboard layout is snapped to a grid, scaling and placement of widgets can be critical to overall presentation of your dashboard. Design them for the intended display resolution.

One thing that assuredly isn’t a shortcoming is once you build a widget for one dashboard, you can import it directly into any other new dashboard you create. This decreases the development time, so you can build it once and then make variations on a theme in other dashboards.

Feedback Loop

While my SolarWinds environment is for internal use by my company; I’m not the only person who uses the data it collects. I still need feedback from people within the organization. I treat them like I would an external customer, and their feedback is probably the most important part to developing dashboards, reports, and alerts.

After some finetuning along with several rounds of discussions to ensure the dashboards met the stakeholders’ expectations, things like ease of understanding, making the information on the dashboards actionable, and limiting the views to address the specific needs of each stage of the troubleshooting ladder were key objectives on their lists.

One of the most-repeated comments from these stakeholders was how easy the Modern Dashboards are to read. With all the different widgets, I can display the information needed by our Help Desk staff to identify any possible issues and allowing the Tier 2 and Tier 3 System Administrators and Engineers to get a view into what’s happening with their application and the underlying servers.

Since they automatically refresh, the people who watch the dashboards know the data is always accurate to within a few minutes. This is critical when trying to stay ahead of issues. Being able to link out to other pages to do deeper analysis via links was also extremely well-received.

Overall, the feedback I received was mostly positive.

Encouraging Others

One thing that sets Modern Dashboards apart is you don’t need to have higher level administration rights to the Orion Web Console. Any user who has a modicum of rights can build their own dashboard. Coupling this with the ability to copy widgets between dashboards, you can empower your users to start crafting their own.

In the short term, this gets them a little more familiar with how the data is represented with the Orion Platform. In the long term, this inspires them to begin to build their own. More than anything, this was the primary reason I provided good, clean, well-described examples in these first shared dashboards.

Wrap-Up and Next Steps

And that’s my tale of taking something from useless to useful. By taking the time to talk with other community members and then jumping in with both feet, I’ve delivered what I hope is a very useful result. I know this was a rather long read, and I appreciate you hanging in there, and my hope is this document can serve you well. Remember, anyone can present the information, the difference-maker is making the information pleasing to the audience because higher-ups love nothing more than a quick, easy-to-read, and understandable dashboard, and let’s face it, the colors help!

But there you have it. A nice, beautiful, sexy dashboard to tell a story. It catches your eye. It reduces the number of clicks you need to do to get to the information you need. It’s well laid-out and most importantly, it seems my end users really appreciate it. I’m sure I’ll get requests for more dashboards in the future, but I can encourage people to try and build their own, using mine as an example.

Next up for me is to get Visual Studio Code, PowerShell 7, and the latest SwisPowerShell module installed, so I can export and import my dashboards between my dev and production systems. It’ll also be super handy to share them here on THWACK.

I started with virtually no SWQL experience and was able to craft Modern Dashboards—not just for myself but for other teams. THWACK and its’ members have been an invaluable resource, so please don’t be afraid to ask us for help along your own journey.

Hopefully my journey inspired you to get started and, if it has, please feel free to share pictures of your own Modern Dashboards or even export your Dashboards for others to import into their own systems.

Until next time,

Ben

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