Network Troubleshooting Tools I Can’t Live Without

Batman’s tool belt. Tony Stark’s workshop. MacGyver’s… well, just about anything he can get his hands on.

Working in IT, it’s easy to appreciate the benefits of having the right tools at our fingertips. In fact, that’s one of the questions I get asked frequently: Which tools do I think are ESSENTIAL, the ones that I just can’t live without?

The reality is that LOTS of tools are good, and could be viewed as “essential”. What really makes a tool really noteworthy is when it “fits” with your other tools, when it seamlessly integrates with your personal style, workflow, and collection of other tools.

Over the years, SolarWinds has grown from its humble beginnings of the “Engineer’s Toolkit”, and amassed an impressive suite of solutions that cover the gamut of monitoring needs. But which ones fit that definition of “I can’t live without it” and “it gets along with the other tools I use”?

Obviously, that list starts with Network Performance Manager (NPM), our flagship product. But where does the well-equipped IT Pro go from there?

After NPM, personal must-have list ranks NetFlow Transaction Analyzer (NTA). Just a few years ago, NetFlow was a semi-esoteric nice-to-have. Nowadays NetFlow – with its ability to display the bandwidth used by specific endpoints, protocols, or applications – extends simple network and device monitoring into the realm of bandwidth analysis, detailed problem forensics, and even security.

NCM (Network Configuration Manager) ranks neck and neck with NTA as the utilities I keep in the top drawer of my toolbox. Configuration management may not seem as glitzy as NetFlow, but in terms of the ways it can keep your infrastructure stable, it can’t be beat. We’ve all seen the statistics – over 60% of network outages are due to uncontrolled configuration changes. “Uncontrolled” can mean unplanned, untested, or un-recoverable. NCM addresses all of that. But on top of that it provides me with end-of-life audits as well as detailed reports telling me which of my devices have security flaws (and how to fix them). And it lets me roll out planned, tested, recoverable changes to my entire network with a single click.

Last on my short-list is good old Engineering Toolkit, the software that started it all. Why? Because there’s a difference between regular ongoing monitoring and detailed analysis. For the ongoing stuff, NPM, NTA, and NCM are the go-to. But for digging through your infrastructure in real-time, Engineering Toolkit does everything the other tools do faster, cleaner, and with a smaller footprint.

Best of all, these tools are all part of the united Orion Core Platform. That means you can pull off detailed custom displays like this


… with relative ease.

What does a view like this let you do? Well, it’s a good example of a “critical path” view – a trick which can cut troubleshooting down from over an hour to under 5 minutes. Using the view above it would be easy to see a CBQoS issue with the HQWAN interface, which resulted from a recent config change. The screen would then let you quickly revert that config change and resolve the issue.

If you only had NTA you would not get an alert on the outage, nor the ability to easily revert the change. That you get with NPM and NCM. With just NPM you would be warned there is an issue but wouldn’t have the QoS information nor the ability to revert the change.

And that’s why I’m excited about the Network Troubleshooting Bundle. Yes, you could buy all the pieces parts individually, but this is a single purchase, and a single installer. If you already have one (or more) of these, the bootstrapper will figure that out and just install what you need.

Unless you’re MacGyver. In which case all you need is a paperclip, a bamboo pipe, and a standard D-cell battery.

Thwack - Symbolize TM, R, and C