AppStack - a Compass to Guide You Through the Forest

Back in 1989, I received a copy of a program that promised to be groundbreaking. It was called, “Forest-and-the-Trees.” The software that came on a 3.5” floppy proposed to scan my computer's hard drive (a whopping 80Mb!), detect patterns, trends, data, and present them in such a way that I could have insight into my businessimpossible to imagine just a few short years before.

For the sake of this discussion, it doesn't matter that the software was less than impressive (or at least, it was less than impressive with the negligible amount of “business” data I had on my computer). What matters is that our desire to use all the computing power at our disposal to find connections we might not otherwise see is deeply-ingrained, and goes as far back as computers themselves.

We at SolarWinds have been spilling a lot of digital ink talking about “AppStack”

As a member of the SolarWinds team, I think it's worth the time and space to discuss because it satisfies that same deep-seated desire to have the computer find the connections, and show us how everything fits together in ways we may not otherwise see.

On a personal level, I love it for the sheer cool factor and for the fact that it's effectively “free.” SolarWinds AppStack isn't as much a product as it is a philosophy and an over-riding architectural goal. That's right, can't run out and buy a box of AppStack. It's not available in stores at any price. Operators are not standing by to take your call. You “get” a bit of AppStack in every SolarWinds product you buy, and the insight grows with each solution you add to the pile (thus the “stack” of Apps).

You can get a glimpse of the power of AppStack in SolarWinds lab episode 25 (jump to the 11:35 minute mark for just AppStack, but the whole episode is worth watching).

But what about us network guys? Based on at least half of its name, you'd think there wouldn't be much for the average router jockey to care about, right?

There are a few reasons this attitude is wrong:

Breaking the silo mentality

We all have our niche, which I recently wrote about on my personal blog. In that blog, I discussed how important it is to choose a specialty to avoid the special kind of hell called “IT Generalist.” IT professionals can no longer afford to get caught up in the “that's not my area” mentality. Sure you have three routers and two core switches under your desk. But that doesn't mean you can't know or care what is running on your wires. AppStack lets you quickly familiarize yourself with how all the parts fit together and in turn you never have to attend a DevOps meeting…ever!


Monitor! All! The! Things! We know its coming. Wearable devices, warehouse geo tracking, real-time shipment data, and more. The Internet of Things is going to create pressure not just on applications, but the networks that all that data rides on. Having a tool like AppStack will allow you to discern the pressures being placed on the wire from those being placed on the application infrastructure.

Which leads us to...


Standing for “mean time to innocence,” this is the speed with which you can prove it's NOT the network's fault. AppStack allows you to show the entire connection chain of an applicationfrom the customer-facing webserver to the back-end database, and even further back to the storage arraypinpointing the source of the problem. SolarWinds Lab Episode 25 provides another great example of what I’m talking aboutit’s that good (Jump to the 19:40 mark). In the case on the video, what are the odds that the network would have been blamed for slow data, instead of the real culpritan overworked RAID5 array connected via iSCSI to a demanding SQL server?

Back in 1989, the idea of software correlating insight from multiple systems was an enticing vision. It’s nice to know that if you stick around long enough, you get to see some of those visions become reality.

Edit 20150303: Adding links to other AppStack posts, for your reading pleasure

  • But what about us network guys?...

    Breaking the silo mentality


    I agree that AppStack is the best root-cause analysis/visualization tool in Orion. But as a network guy I would expect it to show at least my switches or non-application servers. Rather then breaking the silo mentality it seems at the moment to put the application guys at a strategic advantage. That said without application and network information rolled up into one tool then it currently reinforces the silo mentality.

    I have started a feature request for us to vote up the idea of a unified stack which would incorporate both appstack and network components. But I'm sure that's already a popular idea in and out-side of Solarwinds emoticons_wink.png

Thwack - Symbolize TM, R, and C