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I Have the Power! How Upgrades Let You Level Up Your Monitoring Awesomeness

Level 17

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Anyone who has worked in IT for more than 15 minutes – especially in decent-sized environments where there's a level of rigor and control – can tell you that upgrades are a pain in the TCP socket. Even when the upgrades themselves are easy, the process of getting them approved and completed in production is not. There's the testing (which must be done to satisfy the change control committee), the publishing of results, as well as crafting the deployment plan, validation plan, and backout plan should things go wrong. Then there’s the change control request meeting where you have to justify the upgrade to all stakeholders. And finally, the upgrade itself, often performed at a time window that would make vampires happy: 2 a.m. on a Sunday, with all work required to complete before 8 a.m. It's no wonder folks aren't eager to keep their software up to date.

The reality is that when I’m out at user groups (SWUGs) and working at conventions, I encounter customers who haven’t upgraded all the time. These folks are (somehow) living without the latest and greatest performance improvements, security updates, and let's not forget new features in our current stable of products. It's enough to make this old Geek weep in both pity and regret for those lost souls. And what's worse is that upgrading doesn’t cost a thing! That's right, moving to the latest version is 100%, true-blue, legal-even-let-me-say-this-eff-arr-ee-ee FREE.

As I was pondering this injustice, it occurred to me that, outside the gilded walls of SolarWinds HQ, it may not be as clear just how many updates we release each year, or what is contained in them. The fact is that our developers are some of the best in the world, and on top of it, our entire team keeps our fingers on the pulse of customer needs as we attend conventions, user groups (SWUGs), participate in UX sessions (you can join in here), and of course, via the "feature request" forum for each product on THWACK®. With all of that input, SolarWinds updates are rarely just a collection of bug fixes and security patches. Of course, every update DOES have those things, but there's almost always an extra nugget (or two, or more) of goodness to make it worth your while.

For example, on November 20, SolarWinds released new versions of Network Performance Monitor (NPM) , NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (NTA), Network Configuration Manager (NCM), and IP Address Manager (IPAM). Along with performance improvements, security updates, and bug fixes, those versions also included:

  • Network Performance Monitor (NPM 12.4) – Support for monitoring Cisco ACI devices, as well as SAML 2.0 support.
  • NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (NTA 4.5) – Expanded alerting on a variety of NetFlow-specific conditions such as traffic increases, decreases, or disappearances.
  • Network Configuration Manager (NCM 7.9) – Compare one device’s configuration to other devices, as well as point-in-time configurations.
  • IP Address Manager (IPAM 4.8) – Integrated management of Infoblox devices for both DHCP and DNS.
  • AppMap: Context-aware automated mapping, which shows device relationships based on the data flowing across your network Support for monitoring Kubernetes, Docker, Docker Swarm, and Mesos containers
  • Virtualization Manager (VMAN 8.3)
  • Support for VMware vSANs
  • Support for monitoring Docker, Kubernetes, Docker Swarm, and Mesos containers
  • Support for custom properties applied to VMs, hosts, datastores, and clusters
  • Storage Resource Monitor (SRM 6.7)
  • Support for Huawei storage devices
  • Support for GPT disks
  • Hardware health information collected from EMC Isilon v8 and NetApp devices
  • Application Performance Monitor (APM 1.0), which can provide deeper insight through integration with Server & Application Monitor into your custom .NET applications on Microsoft IIS.

But those are just a few samples of what has come out recently. The truth is that SolarWinds updated 28 different products on 13 separate days.

Now maybe you might argue that this update or that feature isn't compelling for you. That's fair. But hopefully you can see how these updates would be important to more than a few folks. And if you look closely not just at what these updates contain, but at the progression of improvements over the years, you'll see a pattern emerge: a pattern of SolarWinds taking releasing a new technology or technique (such as NetPath network path analysis or PerfStack performance analysis dashboard) and then incrementally improving it over the course of subsequent months, and integrating it into other tools and modules (such as when NetPath was integrated into Pingdom® website performance monitoring; or the inclusion of database, container, and log data in PerfStack,).

This picture becomes even more clear if you take a moment to look at the "what we're working on now" section of each product forum on THWACK.com. This is where you can see the road ahead. When combined with the historic view I just offered, it becomes a powerful testimony to the SolarWinds commitment to continued improvement and excellence for every product we produce.

What's my point? Hopefully by now you can see the real value that these releases have for your company, or team, and your monitoring. Value that should make the relatively small discomfort of upgrading pale by comparison.

If you'd like to see a comprehensive list of exactly which features and improvements were released for each product, check out this document. You can also check out the detailed release notes for each product by visiting this page in our Customer Success Center.

44 Comments

The best part of the upgrade, after having gone through upgrades of Solarwinds products for the last fourteen years, is that the new versions' upgrade process are so much simpler, easier, and reliable than their predecessors.

Get to Server 2016, get to NPM 12.3 and its peers, and watch the magic start to simplify your life.  Get to NPM 12.4 and its peers and the Easy Button has arrived.

I upgraded seven SolarWinds servers without having to RDP into any of the APE's.  I just watched in amazement as the APE upgrades happened for me, with the click of a button from the main console's My Orion Deployment window.

The upgrades are free if your Solarwinds support contract is up to date.  That's what lets you download the new versions.  And you should have a Support Contract in place anyway to ensure you have someone to call for support and to help pay for developing bug fixes, new functionality and features, and maybe a Dark Theme!

Tiny, miniscule, gentle, and friendly caveat:  The fact that you have to have a support contract means upgrades aren't really, totally, completely, without reservations, "free."  If you have NPM 8.x and you let your support contract expire years ago, I'd bet you can't upgrade at all until you buy a new support contract.  But once you have a valid support contract you CAN do "free" upgrades!

Level 12

Well, as a Federal customer.....we're waiting "official approval" for Windows Server 2016 before we can upgrade to all the yummy goodness.

The November 2018 upgrade to the Orion platform is the biggest "level up" example a person could hope for.  If you've ever done an upgrade back in pre-V12 days, those days of cumbersome and complex upgrades are over.  Get to the current version and stop spending time and sweat and anxiety on upgrades, and start spending it on your family, your hobbies, your other job(s), etc.

Have these rounds of updates been stable?  I am still a bit sore from the 2018.2 updates that led to a good month or two of Solarwinds instability. 

Level 20

I did the jump to SQL Server 2016 but some of my servers are also still 2012R2.  I'm also a federal customer.

I've been running the latest upgrade for several weeks and have opened no new support cases, things seem to be running fine so far.  I went the RC1 > RC2 route and had some minor glitches, but they're gone now.

Between moving everything to 2016 (VM's and SQL) and the new upgrades to the SolarWinds platform and modules, I'm satisfied with the upgrade experience.

(I'm NEVER satisfied!)

Orion Platform 2018.4, NAM 2018.4, NetPath 1.1.4

Level 13

Our environment will need to go through a rather large upgrade process.  We have to upgrade the OS environment from Windows 2012r2 to Windows 2016 before we can upgrade any product.  Then after that, we have so many servers involved, that will take time to upgrade.  Main engine, 8 online APEs, plus 2 APEs that were almost online, just waiting for licensing, 4 additional web servers.  Fortunately, the SQL server is already at 2016.  The big problem is, upper management has declared this a critical application/environment and really want no downtime..  ever.   This has already problematic as our current environment still has stability issues and errors going on.  (4 open ticket so far, more errors listed in the new health monitor we have not fixed yet).

This is a big project for us and may take months to complete.

Good to hear on the updates so probably plan my update beginning of the year so we can utilize the Cisco ACI updates. 

Product Manager
Product Manager

jhandberg  wrote:

Our environment will need to go through a rather large upgrade process.  We have to upgrade the OS environment from Windows 2012r2 to Windows 2016 before we can upgrade any product.  Then after that, we have so many servers involved, that will take time to upgrade.  Main engine, 8 online APEs, plus 2 APEs that were almost online, just waiting for licensing, 4 additional web servers.  Fortunately, the SQL server is already at 2016.  The big problem is, upper management has declared this a critical application/environment and really want no downtime..  ever.   This has already problematic as our current environment still has stability issues and errors going on.  (4 open ticket so far, more errors listed in the new health monitor we have not fixed yet).

This is a big project for us and may take months to complete.

Hi John!

Have you looked at this? How to Migrate Orion to a New Server With Zero Downtime  It can help you meet your zero downtime requirement.

Also, If you would like to sanity check your upgrade plan with us, we can certainly do so to help identify shortcuts in the upgrade process. One common one is to just do a fresh install of NTA because there is no existing data migration path from the Fastbit Flow database to the new SQL 2016 version that's contained in NTA 4.4 or higher.

Level 13

Hi Serena,

I will look at the link you provided.  We may need to go that route, especially since we have many problems in our current environment.  That doesn't' mean some of our problems are not database issues, but we are currently experiencing multiple issues.  (I have 4 tickets for different issues currently open.  Would have several more if I went through the new Health Check resource.)

The sanity check option had occurred to us and would be a big help.  NTA isn't currently an issue for us, our network teams currently don't use that product for netflow.

Let me know how your APIC monitoring goes.  I've had Access Leaves and Border Leaves monitored for a long time. My work on getting the APIC configured to let NPM monitor it via snmp (v2 AND v3) is not succeeding at present, although NPM's APIC Monitoring credential test succeeds.  But apparently it still needs valid SNMP configuration matching up between NPM and the APIC, and the linked instructions SW provided aren't helping me, despite them looking very valid.

Product Manager
Product Manager

jhandberg  wrote:

Hi Serena,

I will look at the link you provided.  We may need to go that route, especially since we have many problems in our current environment.  That doesn't' mean some of our problems are not database issues, but we are currently experiencing multiple issues.  (I have 4 tickets for different issues currently open.  Would have several more if I went through the new Health Check resource.)

The sanity check option had occurred to us and would be a big help.  NTA isn't currently an issue for us, our network teams currently don't use that product for netflow.

If you would like to direct message me some details, I'm happy to do a quick sanity check and point out areas to optimize.

Level 14

Thanks adatole​.  We've done the SQL upgrades, have stood up some WS2016 to replace a few corrupted WS2012R2 servers & am getting primed to make the leap to WS2019 for all our APEs & AWSs. I might even do the Kiwis straight after for good measure. As soon as we can get the resource and licences to provision the new VMs I'm intending to start the transition.And then finally, when that's all done, I'm really looking forward to finding rschroeder's Easy Button

Product Manager
Product Manager

robertcbrowning  wrote:

Thanks adatole .  We've done the SQL upgrades, have stood up some WS2016 to replace a few corrupted WS2012R2 servers & am getting primed to make the leap to WS2019 for all our APEs & AWSs. I might even do the Kiwis straight after for good measure. As soon as we can get the resource and licences to provision the new VMs I'm intending to start the transition.And then finally, when that's all done, I'm really looking forward to finding rschroeder 's Easy Button

Very excited to see how that goes for you. Please keep us posted on your experience.

Level 8

Hehe

Level 9

I was going to upgrade a while ago but then this thread, NPM 12.3 Orion 2018.2 Upgrade Feedback scared me.

So has all of the issues been resolved. I'm thinking about upgrading at the beginning of the new year.

Product Manager
Product Manager

gundamunit1  wrote:

I was going to upgrade a while ago but then this thread, NPM 12.3 Orion 2018.2 Upgrade Feedback  scared me.

So has all of the issues been resolved. I'm thinking about upgrading at the beginning of the new year.

We have released hotfixes that have addressed the concerns expressed in that thwack thread. Even better, NPM 12.4 contains those same fixes as we cumulatively build on the fixes that we release.

Level 15

I have some peer's that feel they should lag on upgrades.  Holding onto to the very last release of something that is still supported and only upgrading when absolutely required due to the support contracts.  I truly appreciate from a computer scientist point of view, the precision and dedication of the SW development team to make improvements in the PROCESS of upgrading besides simply upgrading and/or bug fixes.  In four and 1/2 years that I have been in my current organization, I have taken the system from merely collecting switch configs via NCM, to being a tool that everyone on the tech uses and can rely on when things are not "normal".  Instead of crying Chicken Little the Sky is Falling down the hallway when an end-user calls about a remote site, the open their SW console, see if indeed it is a real or perceived issue.  They know how to track wireless devices.  They only darken my doorway when a "real" issue crops up.  Without these wonderful tools, we would still be stuck in the 90's.  I wish other vendors could adopt some of these principles. 

Great article adatole

Level 11

Performance Analysis along with live polling is a really cool feature. I believe once we get multiple related devices in the same window automatically, showing what's wrong with the picture, it will be a game changer for troubleshooting.  We are on the right path.  Upgrading is definitely worth it!!!

Product Manager
Product Manager

alexpf  wrote:

Performance Analysis along with live polling is a really cool feature. I believe once we get multiple related devices in the same window automatically, showing what's wrong with the picture, it will be a game changer for troubleshooting.  We are on the right path.  Upgrading is definitely worth it!!!

Do you utilize our prepopulated links that we have provided on entity details widgets?

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Those will be opening prepopulated PerfStacks with relevant related entities

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Level 7

Free, you say?

Ha!

Testing takes hardware, costly stuff!

Testing takes IT Team time; nothing free about paying us!

Planning out the upgrade?

Writing, rewriting, submitting, getting it back from the committee, [oh, My Budget! Committee salaries!]

Nothing free about the process, even if the software is bought & paid up.

Damn! Another version to pay for? Here goes another ROUND!

Level 20

I've used the realtime polling for troubleshooting things... it works pretty well.

Level 17

You bring up great points. As my buddy sqlrockstar​ likes to tease me, "Linux is only free if your time is worthless".

And yes, when I invoked the "F" word, it was only related to the software cost. But also that the new (and hopefully valuable) features contained therein - features which have the potential to allow you to retire other solutions, or to fill a functionality gap you couldn't afford to address. Or best of all, features that let you catch little problems before they become big problems. THAT kind of free.

But I agree that your time to test, map out the upgrade, map out the backout plan in case something goes wrong, and actually EXECUTE those plans is a non-trivial and non-zero-cost activity.

The only point I'd challenge you on was the test equipment. Everyone should have a lab/test/dev setup for their monitoring.  And yes, I know THAT is also a non-zero-cost proposition. But if your monitoring is in charge of watching your critical systems, then by definition, IT (ie: monitoring) is a critical system. And if monitoring is, in fact, a critical system, then it should have a lab so that you aren't stuck testing in production. I'm not saying YOU don't have such a setup, but I know far too many folks who are in that situation and it's become a bit of a soapbox for me.

Thanks again for raising some really good counterpoints. I hope everyone takes the time to consider the "cost of free stuff" and budgets accordingly.

Level 17

I think all of us old... I mean "weathered" IT folks sometimes fall into the trap of "if it ain't broke, don't upgrade it" because we'd been burned in the past. That bad experience may not even have been with THIS software (or vendor), but we still feel skittish about the whole affair.

As piankiller411 mentions a little further down, "free" isn't always free, when you factor in people's time and the inherent risks involved.

THAT SAID...

There's a difference between riding the bleeding edge of a release

versus

testing in your lab on day 1 and beginning the planning phase, while watching feedback before pulling the trigger

versus

only walking the upgrade plank when forced at the point of a sharp contract.

As with so many things, the path of moderation may be the wisest

I'm planning to upgrade my systems after the holiday freeze is lifted (we put a stop on all Production level changes throughout the holiday season).  I already upgraded my one development poller but I have 12 pollers for my production systems.  I'm looking forward to upgrading to 2018.4.  My users have been looking for SAML support for some time now.  But what I'm interested in is your comment about not having to RDP to your APEs. 

Do you mind sharing some more insight into how that went for you?  Are there any lessons learned that we should be on the lookout for?

Product Manager
Product Manager

keenb  wrote:

I'm planning to upgrade my systems after the holiday freeze is lifted (we put a stop on all Production level changes throughout the holiday season).  I already upgraded my one development poller but I have 12 pollers for my production systems.  I'm looking forward to upgrading to 2018.4.  My users have been looking for SAML support for some time now.  But what I'm interested in is your comment about not having to RDP to your APEs. 

Do you mind sharing some more insight into how that went for you?  Are there any lessons learned that we should be on the lookout for?

He's referring to our new centralized upgrade feature. Orion Platform 2018.4 Centralized Upgrades Walkthrough <-- here is our product blog post on the topic, and here's rick's posted doc on his experience utilizing centralized upgrades The "Easy Button" has arrived with the December 2018 install of NAM (and other Solarwinds modules) 

Special note about the Easy Button. The current release of NAM at 2018-12-18 is not activating all modules (NCM, NTA, HA, etc.) beneath NAM when NAM is licensed and activated.  One must still manually activate the licenses at the portal, copy their license keys one at a time, and enable them in the License Manager within SolarWinds Orion.

I lost several hours of access to NCM, NTA, etc. this morning when the previously-installed 30-day trial license (used to upgrade NAM in the RC2 mode) expired.  I had previously opened several tickets about the alerts I was receiving--that the license was expiring soon.  Each time I was told that the problem was cosmetic only--that the fully-paid-for 12-month license would automatically take over once the 30-day trial license expired.

Well, that's what some SW Support folks believed.  In fact, it's what is SUPPOSED to happen once the next release comes out in January of 2019.  But it's not what really happened.

Instead I had no NCM, NTA, VNQM, or IPAM this morning.  Not until I manually copied over their individual licenses and pasted them into License Manager.  And then I had to log out and log back into SolarWinds to actually see the modules working. 

A word to the wise.

Special note about the Easy Button. The current release of NAM at 2018-12-18 is not activating all modules (NCM, NTA, HA, etc.) beneath NAM when NAM is licensed and activated.  One must still manually activate the licenses at the portal, copy their license keys one at a time, and paste them into the License Manager within SolarWinds Orion to activate them.  Then one must log out and log back into Orion web console to see the modules working.

I lost several hours of access to NCM, NTA, etc. this morning when the previously-installed 30-day trial license (used to upgrade NAM in the RC2 mode) expired.  I had previously opened several tickets about the alerts I was receiving--that the license was expiring soon.  Each time I was told that the problem was cosmetic only--that the fully-paid-for 12-month license would automatically take over once the 30-day trial license expired.

Well, that's what some SW Support folks believed.  In fact, it's what is SUPPOSED to happen once the next release comes out in January of 2019.  But it's not what really happened.

Instead I had no NCM, NTA, VNQM, or IPAM this morning.  Not until I manually copied over their individual licenses and pasted them into License Manager.  And then I had to log out and log back into SolarWinds to actually see the modules working. 

A word to the wise.

So you have to go in and reapply all the licensing once you do the upgrade? 

I'm not 100% clear about what fixed the licensing problem.  It may be that my manually reapplying the module licenses beneath NAM fixed it.  Or it may be that logging out of the web console and logging back in got me the access I needed.

It seems that allowing some time to pass between applying the license and testing the license may not have been enough.   Since I never logged out of the web console, I imagine it's possible the licensing never applied to my current session.

SolarWinds Support is hashing through it, and I suspect the various teams will come to an agreement on the right process.

While I am generally a fan of staying current with product version I have to say that the latest round has torpedoed Patch Mgr for me. We've been dealing with it for a couple of weeks now and it is hurting. I realize that PM isn't SolarWinds favorite but the fallout has been pretty devastating, Case # - 00210951.

Anyne else get their PM pinched?

Level 11

I am having multiple issues post upgrading to Orion platform 2018.4 NPM, SAM, NCM, NTA, IPAM, SRM to the latest version.

I feel I should atleast wait for bug fix release when a new product is released.

Below are the issues I am facing -

1. Menu bar disappeared

2. Unable to rollback to old charts

3. Ping stuck on main polling engine

4. Getting server error when opening a node details page

5. CPU, Memory, Disk, Response time statistics collection stopped but interface statistics is working, I think interface is not migrated to new charts

6. Orion deployment and online diagnostic shows nothing

7. No members menu post enabling ACI polling for APIC Server M2

Had run configuration wizard from cmd(admin) to repair packages, below issue still persists.

2. Unable to rollback to old charts

4. Getting server error when opening a node details page

5. CPU, Memory, Disk, Response time statistics collection stopped but interface statistics is working, I think interface is not migrated to new charts

6. Orion deployment and online diagnostic shows nothing

7. No members menu post enabling ACI polling for APIC Server M2

Call logged for each issue, support is still identifying the problem.

Product Manager
Product Manager

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/people/martian%20monster  wrote:

So you have to go in and reapply all the licensing once you do the upgrade? 

Hi scenario is very specific to NAM licensing.

Product Manager
Product Manager

nafees.khan  wrote:

I am having multiple issues post upgrading to Orion platform 2018.4 NPM, SAM, NCM, NTA, IPAM, SRM to the latest version.

I feel I should atleast wait for bug fix release when a new product is released.

Below are the issues I am facing -

1. Menu bar disappeared

2. Unable to rollback to old charts

3. Ping stuck on main polling engine

4. Getting server error when opening a node details page

5. CPU, Memory, Disk, Response time statistics collection stopped but interface statistics is working, I think interface is not migrated to new charts

6. Orion deployment and online diagnostic shows nothing

7. No members menu post enabling ACI polling for APIC Server M2

Had run configuration wizard from cmd(admin) to repair packages, below issue still persists.

2. Unable to rollback to old charts

4. Getting server error when opening a node details page

5. CPU, Memory, Disk, Response time statistics collection stopped but interface statistics is working, I think interface is not migrated to new charts

6. Orion deployment and online diagnostic shows nothing

7. No members menu post enabling ACI polling for APIC Server M2

Call logged for each issue, support is still identifying the problem.

Hi, did you see my response to your open thwack thread about your issues? It looks like my colleague also responded to your thread about the widgets. Let's keep the discussion that thread if possible Multiple issues post upgrading to Orion platform 2018.4 NPM 12.4 etc

Product Manager
Product Manager

This should not be the case, even for NAM. We're still unclear what exactly the issue was or what exactly resolved it. We're just glad that rschroeder​ is back up and running again.

tinmann0715,  PM is the only Solarwinds/Orion Product I refuse to do consulting on.

I don't get a grip on PatchManager, I don't like it...I would even go that far that I feel PM is hurting the reputation of the whole Orion portfolio/platform.

I might be wrongfully convicting PM to be as bad as I think..... maybe during the partner boot camp in cork a learning-session on the product might brighten my view on PM

I really struggle with the Solarwinds upgrades.   The requirement to always upgrade SQL and windows is going to be a rain financially on companies.   I would like to see SW develop a nice VM appliance or cloud appliance which is a complete orion install and or additional pollers.   This would

a. eliminate the need to expensive windows licensing

b. help both parties ensure software compatibility

c. enable a simpler rollout and or recovery from failure.

Level 13

That could be helpful.  We are struggling with .NET and Windows updates and some strange incompatibility while trying to bring up brand new additional web servers.  This dependency is killing this project right now, and getting us in hot water with management.  I would love to see those dependencies go away also, so an appliance would help with that.

Level 17

The idea of a containerized and/or cloud-based Orion platform is an intriguing idea, something that gets a lot of water cooler attention around the office these days at SolarWinds HQ. I would encourage you to reach out to lee.calcote​, aLTeReGo​, serena and the amazing folks in UX (including meech​) to share the details of how you would imagine that would work out.

HOWEVER... I'm going to challenge your comment about "always upgrade SQL and windows". This version is the first time we've flat-out required an upgrade in a long time, and it's specifically needed because the columnstore functionality is required for the latest versions of NTA and LM, but also so that people can have the best performance possible. Meanwhile, SolarWinds announced that SQL 2012 was going to be deprecated over 6 months ago. Given that we're talking about a db platform that's more than 6 years old, I'd say that's a decent amount of warning on a version that companies should have been considering upgrading in any case.

And finally (and this is a personal soapbox thing), moving to 2016 (or 2017) allows companies to ELIMINATE one whole license: Windows server. Because SQL 2016 and up will run nicely on Linux (I have it chugging along on Ubuntu on my lab, as my actual Orion db server) which is a perennial request - "when will SolarWinds support a Linux-based database?".

Level 13

In my case, my dependency issues are related to compatibility issues between the 2012r2 main engine that has been around a few years, and brand new 2012r2 web servers we are trying to connect to it.  We get errors just trying to edit a node on the new servers due to some incompatibility that hasn't been identified yet.  I don't have an objection to the OS upgrade in itself in this case.  Still, an appliance model might resolve my current issue.  Well, that current issue, I have multiple other issues waiting in the wings to fix before we get around to a full upgrade.

Level 17

Image result for "it's always something" meme

Product Manager
Product Manager
Level 13

Yes, we hit that once before on our older additional web server and fixed it by upgrading to the latest .NET Framework across the board.  These new additional web servers have been verified for .NET versions, and they seem to have the latest other Microsoft KB updates also.  Comparing windows update on the main engine and new web servers show the same 3 December updates waiting and no others.  The issue persists. (Case 00212178). 

Its very exciting that we have free upgrades, but we do pay substantial software maintenance each year, so technically free would be pay once and never pay again for upgrades, then its 100% free.   However, this aside, you did recognize the fact not all organizations can keep up with your demands on required hardware and software.  it was like pulling teeth with no pain medicine to get SQL 2016 or higher.   I ended up with 2017.   I am excited to install it but I still vote for a Virtual appliance where its self contained.   Where you build what you need in it and we no longer are tied to server requirements and software licensing.  Building it on a nie linux platform where there is a upgrade process but does not require the customer to shell out big dollars for something like SQL, when SolarWinds is the only product running on it.  Our main DB for example is SAP which run on HANA in the SAP Cloud.  My Rockwell Automation runs on its on version of SQL which will never be the latest version just based on how industrial control systems work, and another reporting tool runs on Oracle.  My main SQL production server simply supports SolarWinds.  The return on investment for SQL is hard to justify.  The new features are amazing, but I feel there needs to be an alternate way to deliver them to customers.  The Cloud based monitoring tools which i have looked at are so limited compared to orion.  I do not believe this is a sufficient solution as an alternative.   A virtual appliance would be the better alternative.  

About the Author
In my sordid career, I have been an actor, bug exterminator and wild-animal remover (nothing crazy like pumas or wildebeasts. Just skunks and raccoons.), electrician, carpenter, stage-combat instructor, American Sign Language interpreter, and Sunday school teacher. Oh, and I work with computers. Since 1989 (when you got a free copy of Windows 286 on twelve 5¼” floppies when you bought a copy of Excel 1.0) I have worked as a classroom instructor, courseware designer, desktop support tech, server support engineer, and software distribution expert. Then about 14 years ago I got involved with systems monitoring. I've worked with a wide range of tools: Tivoli, Nagios, Patrol, ZenOss, OpenView, SiteScope, and of course SolarWinds. I've designed solutions for companies that were extremely modest (~10 systems) to those that were mind-bogglingly large (250,000 systems in 5,000 locations). During that time, I've had to chance to learn about monitoring all types of systems – routers, switches, load-balancers, and SAN fabric as well as windows, linux, and unix servers running on physical and virtual platforms.