cancel
Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Create Post

The Pain-free Way to Evaluate SolarWinds Products

Product Manager
Product Manager

The Pain-free Way to Evaluate SolarWinds Products

     Believe me, I get it. More than you know. Evaluating SolarWinds products, as a current customer, can be, well, downright unpleasant. And, of course, it has to be done Saturday at midnight. Am I right?! The process doesn’t have to be as difficult as it is now, which is why I wanted to open up this conversation. The following should help you evaluate SolarWinds tools and features without pain, failures, or mishaps.

First, let’s go over some of the common eval issues customers have been less than stellar about in the past.

  1. There’s no downtime allowed.
    1. Risk of issue and causing monitoring downtime.
    2. Configuration wizard causes services to stop and start.
    3. Floods of alerts.
  2. Evaluations are not allowed in the production environment.
  3. Bad experience in the past with upgrades.
    1. Left behind components.
    2. Issues with adding modules.
  4. Not understanding the compatibility matrix of existing products.
    1. This causes evals to be disallowed on the existing setup.
    2. This creates issues with legacy components that you didn’t know were there.
  5. Support states that evals should not be placed on customer production environment.

That’s a pretty daunting list, which is exactly why I wanted to get this conversation started. As a company made by and for geeks, we owe it to our customers to listen to their concerns and help them by talking through their issues. It’s the best way for us to improve this process.

Okay, now I’d like to walk you through the steps that will guide you to happily evaluating our products while regaining your confidence along the way.

Eval on a production environment

  1. Back up your SolarWinds and NetFlow™ storage (if installed) databases.
    1. The core SolarWinds database is commonly called “NetPerfMon.”
  2. Know your compatibility.
    1. Check the following two locations to assist you. (Evals are latest code).
      1. Upgrade product advisor online interactive tool.
      2. Compatibility matrix chart
  3. Download and install needed evaluation products.
  4. Document.
    1. Document the version of the eval you have installed and when you installed it. It is helpful to have this documented in case any issues occur down the road after uninstalling, etc. You can use this information for any support call or ticket you may create.

Eval on a virtual environment

Imagine you have your very own SolarWinds evaluation lab. Set up a standard VM server and apply the latest and greatest evaluation portion you want to trial. You’re not messing with your production environment at this point, so there is nothing to worry about.

“Wait,” I hear you say. “I want to test with my existing database and not have to rediscover, add custom properties, etc.!”  I have an answer for you as well:

Eval on a virtual environment with a production database

  1. Back up your SolarWinds and NetFlow™ storage (if installed) databases.
    1. The core SolarWinds database is commonly called “NetPerfMon.”
  2. You’ll have to move your backup to a new database name and reinstate it.
  • RESTORE FILELISTONLY FROM DISK='c:\NetPerfMon.bak'
      1. note the logical names of the .mdf & .ldf from the results, then;

RESTORE DATABASE NPMEval FROM DISK='c:\NetPerfMon.bak'

WITH

MOVE 'LogicalNameForTheMDF' TO 'c:\NPMEval.mdf',

MOVE 'LogicalNameForTheLDF' TO 'c:\NPMEval_log.ldf'

  • To restore the backup to the new database NPMEval.
      1. Example (restores a backup of a db called 'NetPerfMon' to 'NPMEval';

RESTORE FILELISTONLY FROM DISK='e:\mssql\backup\NetPerfMon.bak'

>LogicalName

>--------------

>NPMEval

>NPMEval_log

RESTORE DATABASE NetPerfMon FROM DISK='e:\mssql\backup\NetPerfMon.bak'

WITH

MOVE 'NetPerfMon' TO 'e:\mssql\NPMEval.mdf',

MOVE 'NetPerfMon_log' TO 'e:\mssql\NPMEval_log.ldf'


3. Know your compatibility. Your database is on your pre-existing version of SolarWinds software.

    1. Check the following locations to assist you. (Evals are latest code.)
      1. Upgrade product advisor online interactive tool.
      2. Compatibility matrix chart.
      3. Proceed to follow the upgrade path to get to your needed upgraded versions.


4. Download and install your evaluation copies.

5. Run your SolarWinds configuration wizard and point to the new “NPMEval” database that was created.

6. Evaluate with all your saved settings, etc.

Let me know about any cool tips and tricks you may have!  I’m sure there are awesome snapshots with VMs that will come out and play, as well.  My goal is to throw some options out there to get the discussion going. Evaluating the products and discovering how they work within your environment is a great way to test upgrade times and changes. It also helps with onboarding with your team.

Happy evaluating! And, as always, thank you for your time.

~ Dez ~

10 Comments
MVP
MVP

Good write up !

Level 10

Excellent info!

I would add that testing a SW product shouldn't automatically trigger a sales rep bombarding you with calls and emails. I don't needs the sales pitch upfront; what I need is technical knowledge and expertise to guide me if this is the best product or not. Once its been decided that we need the product, then start the tactics. Otherwise, it leaves a bad taste for the entire process.

Great write up thanks very much.

Dare I suggest SW create a virtual lab environment, just like Cisco trainers access, to let someone evaluate a product in an environment SW can control and guarantee is up to date, patched properly, resourced correctly, etc.?

Of course, tying it into virtual switches, databases, routers, F5's, etc. is so much to ask.

But I bet one day providing this will be the norm instead of exceptional.

In the mean time, why not amp up the current process list a step and help users by automating.  Yes, you've got the steps well laid out, but I could imagine it all being set up for evaluation, and a simple startup program would run and do all the listed manual steps for a customer.

Your steps 1 through 5 seem like something a modern program could do, and all a user would have to do is provide the current names and locations of the existing databases and files, and then point to the target location on which the evaluation install will use.  The install program does the rest, including backups and imports and renaming--without touching your production solution.

It's probably too much to ask.  But I'm asking.  Is it too much to do?

If you can pull it off, what a coup!  No one else is doing this, to the best of my knowledge.  Another way SW stands head & shoulders above the crowds.

And I'll take it to the next step.  Once you have this process down, I bet you can sell it at many levels.  Lots of companies could use a process that could take their software and package it and leverage customers' existing environmental variables and nodes, and install it on a customer's test environment.  Just imaging military customers alone!  The corporate environment needs this.  Public schools and universities are crying out for it.  "Who can we pay to provide us this kind of solution?!!"

SW, that's who.

Product Manager
Product Manager

So much yes right here!  Especially being able to have a program to backup and move to a location..   Thats pretty simple to accomplish, am I right??  We are working on better ideas and concepts for evaluating even having images etc available to download.   Mainly, know we are listening and this is definitely our time to "lean in" as they say.

~ Dez ~

MVP
MVP

+1 for this comment

Level 7

izzy_g is 100% correct.  deployment is easy.  i'm giving honest feedback, the sole item that prevents me from further product evaluation with Solarwinds is the constant, bothersome sales pitch.

Level 10

Actually, we just ran into this.  No way are we going to eval on a Production environment.  We have way too many modules in play.  We created a Test/QA virtual environment and then instead of allowing a continous QA environment like Microsoft TechNet, we find that SolarWinds wants a 50% charged for cost plus maintenance to run what they consider a "Lab" environment.  Go figure....  Really, an additonal 50% to follow a best practice of having a QA environment?

And you claim to be "from geeks?"  Not, that is from greedly capitalists.  If you have deployed products under maintenace, this should not be the case.  Especially when said customer environments find pre-release issues for you....  come on!!!

Product Manager
Product Manager

I appreciate your honesty greatly!

~Dez

Product Manager
Product Manager

You could download and use an evaluation version for the VM in your test environment so you can test functionality.  When you install the bits you already have it will ask to license and then if you don't it gives you 30 days of usage.

I completely feel you on the 50% cost for a lab environment when your a paid customer and maintenance renewer. (not an actual word.. lol)

Perhaps this is something that you could bring up as a feature request or ask on the product blogs to bring attention to your PM's.  Perhaps something like a dev type install or something that could allow you to test within your environment.

~Dez

About the Author
I started in networking and security around 2002 by taking Cisco Certified Network Associate and Security+ courses from Central Vo-tech. This is where I fell in love with technology in general. From there I venture out to internships and started using the Engineers Toolset from SolarWinds which made me wonder about software. The company I was with purchased Cirrus which is now Network Configuration Manager (NCM) and I was officially hooked. I searched out for SolarWinds and well you guessed it I started working for them and believe it or not in sales. That was the only position open but I knew I wanted to be here. So I quickly worked my way in to the support side and became the first Sales Engineer and then the first Applications Engineer. Since I am a very curious person I have since in my 9 years of being at SolarWinds decided to pursue more education. Security is always a fascination to me so I started taking classes on INFOSEC Assessment Methodology (IAM) and INFOSEC Evaluation Methodology (IEM) of the NSA. Then I went and took the CIW Masters for web development and ventured to databases. MCITP SQL Server and Development certifications that led me to a database development degree in college. I’m pretty much a jack of all trades and LOVE IT! This all applied to my work with SolarWinds as I wanted to be able to help customers solve their issues or needs. So knowing more information allowed me to do this successfully. I also dabbled in Cisco UCS management and currently taking classes to venture toward a CCIE (crossing fingers). NCM is a product that I have worked with since its beginning. I even had the opportunity to fly to the NSA to create templates for some of their devices. I used to be the sole MIB database controller so I’m definitely your huckleberry on MIBs and OIDs. As an Applications Engineer I focused on Network Performance Monitor, Network Configuration Manager, Web Performance Monitor, Enterprise Operations Console, Patch Manager, User Device Tracker, and the Engineers Toolset. See why I like to constantly learn new things I had a lot to be on top of! SolarWinds is a passion of mine still to this very day. My new role as a Product Manager for NCM is home to me. Funny how I circled around back to my favorite product that got me here in the first place. :) My goal is to educate and work with customers to leverage our products to their fullest degree!