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Network Performance Monitor: From Version 10.5 to 2020.2

One million elements per SolarWinds® Orion® instance. One million. Let that sink in for a moment. A new scalability milestone that’s surprising even to me. I’ve seen some amazing things since joining SolarWinds in 2007 as its products have scaled along with its users to address the challenges of businesses of any size. And believe it or not, this sort of long-term, continuous innovation in an existing product is rare for software. Along the way, vendors usually force their users onto “advanced” (i.e., clean-sheet technology do-overs), losing all their customization and data in the move. Instead, according to International Data Corporation (IDC), SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM) became the world leader in network monitoring software through regular user upgrades.

Release Timeline Highlights

Here are a few of the major features added since version 10.5 (check out the NPM release info graphic for more details):

  • Cloud networking for Azure
  • Web-based remote upgrades
  • Real-time charts
  • Service Desk integration
  • Automatic, dynamic mapping
  • Network Insight for Palo Alto, Cisco Nexus, ACI, ASA, F5 BIG-IP,
  • PerfStack
  • NetPath agentless monitoring for internet routing and performance
  • Dynamic and configurable status rollups
  • Agent or agentless collection for Windows and Linux servers
  • Deep packet inspection QoE

NPM, My How You’ve Grown

This would be remarkable on its own, but over the years, hundreds of enhancements and even entirely new feature categories have been added while performance has simultaneously improved. Orion and NPM were transformed from a dependable multi-vendor network monitoring tool into a platform for flexible and deep monitoring for advanced network devices and protocols, applications, databases, storage, cloud, and more. Many software products become slower and more complex over time, but the Orion Platform added these capabilities while simultaneously becoming more intuitive and able to scale to any business. But you already know why: because SolarWinds listens to the members of THWACK® instead of building speculative features you didn’t ask to get.  

I’ve been fortunate to be able to introduce a few dozen new features over the years at THWACKcamp and on SolarWinds Lab. So I thought it would be fun to look back at the technical history of NPM—the module that started it all. And yes, it’s true SolarWinds loves its acronyms, but with over 60 products spanning just about every need in IT, it makes it easy to keep them straight. And as a former admin, I like shorter filenames that don’t change all the time, too.

SolarWinds products are named for what they do. Say what you do, do what you say. It also saves users time. They don’t have to untangle marketing-meets-legal mashups like Clearanom With Enterprise DataPower Conveyor or something similar. You’d expect Network Performance Monitor to have the tools you need to keep your networks up and performing well, from network gear and routing to topology, mapping, and traffic in deep detail. And SolarWinds Service Desk would be… a feature-rich service desk. And because they’re both from SolarWinds, you’d expect them to be integrated. They are. So you’ll hear NPM, NTA, NCM, IPAM, SAM, SRM, DPA, WPM, and more because these acronyms assure clear communication on THWACK and reduce complexity for upgrades, training, and support.

NPM –> Orion –> NPM?

I know you’re not supposed to have a favorite, but NPM is special to me. As the original Orion Platform module, NPM has an interesting beginning, believe it or not—in SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset. In the late 90s, NPM was one of several workstation-based tools for basic SNMP device monitoring, switch port mapping, MIB discovery, subnet calculation, and more. It was overtaken by SolarWinds Orion, which was the original name of the new server-based, multi-vendor network monitor capable of doing a lot more. It was designed based on SolarWinds user requests.

Next, customers asked SolarWinds to help with NetFlow analysis (now NTA) and network configuration (now NCM), followed by a medley of new IT operations modules for application monitoring, databases, IPAM, VoIP, and more. NPM was the backbone of this platform along the way, but eventually it was time to let it shine. Orion became the common services platform included in all Orion modules, and NPM became an independent, mature module. Perhaps this change more than any other created the freedom in recent years to innovate quickly and help users tame the rapidly expanding complexity of the networks they manage.

I’ve loved these years at SolarWinds for many reasons, but there are two at the top of the list: the sharp humans of the THWACK user community and the steady advance of SolarWinds products based on your requests. And with the 2020.2 release, NPM and the platform it sits on are more fully operational monitoring battle stations than ever. The web UI speed increase and new remote installer enhancement in this release alone are awesome, and I can’t wait to hear what you’ll be doing by this time next year.

If you have a minute, take a look at the NPM release info graphic and let me know what you think. I’d love to know what your favorite upgrades have been over the years and hear about the “impossible” challenges they helped you overcome.


Level 13

Hi @patrick.hubbard. I am excited about the performance improvements that the new upgrades offers. At our work, Orion performance is the biggest issue. Hopefully, this upgrade will make it the least issue. 

I like your graphic. However, the versions are out-of-order. Following the snake-arrow, the versions are ordered:
10.5, 10.6, 10.7, 12.0, 11.5, 11.0, 12.1, 12.2, 12.3, 2019.4, 12.5, 12.4, 2020.2.

Also, I thought you might have mentioned the upgrade improvements from a previous version (not sure which 12.x version it was, but the automated upgrade procedure that @serena's team came up with saved me and many admins many hours on upgrades. For that reason, that was one of my favorite upgrades ever, and I extend Kudos to Serena's team for that improvement.

I hope 2020.2 improvements will be just as valuable. I can't wait to install it.

Product Manager
Product Manager

@ebradford  the 2020.2 upgrade improvements delivered by @jblankjblank  are going to knock your socks off! He took the foundation of that automated upgrade procedure and refined it for amazing results. He did a deep dive on the topic here if you're curious: 

Level 13

Thanks @ebradford, I forwarded that to the team that created the graphic.

When they asked if I wanted to write about NPM evolution to go with it, my first reaction was "How can we possibly cover all the major new 2020.2 feature improvements and fixes in less than 5,000 words??". And it's not just NPM- it's most Orion platform modules as well. And the real challenge is that some that seem minor to one user can be job-enhancing to another. For example I could.. wait, actually have.. done whole posts on new features of the SDK. In-particular the complete redesign of internal n-tier plumbing made possible by SWIS a few years ago. 

So, we're planning a lab to overview the 2020.2 release(s) and it will be a chance to go over what I believe is one of the three most important multi-product updates in the history of the platform. And you're right, distilling that out in 15-20 minutes is going to be a trick. 🧙‍♂️

The big take-away for me in this release is two-fold:

  1. The website is faster, the installer/updater is faster, editing and making changes in the UI is faster. The top focus for all products in this release is more speed. Additional scalability also benefits from that work.

  2. Your notion of what an Orion upgrade is, will fundamentally change once you've made this upgrade, especially in complex environments. Pre-staging alone can dramatically reduce upgrade downtime and errors from manual bits deployment. Also the installer and config wizards have been optimized to parallelize previously serialized steps to run concurrently. Soon I think we'll talk about two eras in upgrading: pre-2020.2 and post 2020.2. The procedure Serena shared with you is not only built-in, it's been further improved. Hopefully you and other users who worked with her team take pride in these enhancements- you helped define and test another new feature that benefits the whole community. 

So yeah- it's a huge release and I only scratched the surface. We can't wait to hear what you think of it- first the UI improvements, and then what you think of your 2020.2->2020.{?} upgrade. Thanks for your feedback!

Level 13

Hi Patrick, 

I will certainly let you know about how it goes when the GR is released. Do you have a release date set? I do really like the pre-staging idea. One of our sites is in China. It used to take a very long time to complete the copy portion of an install to that location. So, pre-staging the files is potentially a huge time saver.

One of my coworkers asked, "Will the Web GUI improvements will allow more people to have more Orion pages open without as much degradation of performance?" Meaning can more concurrent sessions per web engine be sustained without impacting Web GUI performance?

 Best Regards,

Level 20

I used 10.5 back then it was the old thwack too.  Thanks to some people you don't hear as much about on thwack like @tdanner the guts of Orion has come a long long way from what it started as.  It's night and day what we have now compared to back in the 10.x days.  I sure don't miss the upgrades we had to do back then either.  I was using the engineering toolset when Solarwinds released the Orion platform.  Pretty crude at first but it did work.  Patrick is right too... NPM was Orion pretty much.  You had to start with NPM then because it was the start.


@ebradford  additional webservers are cheap!  I highly recommend them if you're trying to log a bunch of people onto the web interface.  In fact minus a few Orion admins I wouldn't put all the users on the main Orion instance anyhow.  You can even put a few webservers behind a F5 load balancer if you really want it handle a lot of users.


Level 20

The license cost for additional webservers is a no brainer... I wish I had done it sooner actually.

About the Author
I'm the Head Geek and technical marketing director at SolarWinds, (which basically means I'm an mature geek in the services of the product team). When I say geek I mean Geek, with extreme prejudice. I started writing assembly on my Apple II, got a BITNET email account in 1984, ran a BBS @ 300 baud, survived X.25, abused Token Ring, got some JavaScript award love in '96, and my hack flight notification service still backs Along the way in various jobs I’ve been a developer, SE, PM, PMM, and now principal evangelist. (Let us all join hands around the server.) Over 10 years at SolarWinds I’ve hatched our online live demo systems, managed the SolarWinds Certified Professional program, launched the Head Geek program, helmed SolarWinds Lab and THWACKcamp, and these days I’m focused on the hairball that is Hybrid IT, Cloud, DevOps and helping IT admins learn new skills not just to manage increasing complexity, but accelerate their careers. I’m always looking for new and more fiendish ways to use our products- just like our customers. And when I have a few spare minutes I fly a little when the weather is good.