From the Beginning, Getting Started with SolarWinds

SolarWinds has hit my radar a couple of times, both as an exhibitor at Tech Field Day events and as a management tool that I see deployed at customer sites. After a briefing  and Tech Field Day 13 I decided that it was high time that I gave the tires a kick. One of the first questions is what products do you want to test? SolarWinds have about twenty products just in their on-premises IT and network management category. They also have a service provider category and a SaaS category, which I won’t be looking at today.

Being a virtualization guy I most wanted to see how the Virtualization Manager (VMAN) product works and what it could show me. As I read the getting started guide for VMAN  it became clear that VMAN was not intended to be the first product you deploy, it requires a working Orion deployment. Orion is the integration framework that ties the various SolarWinds management products together. The Orion installer is not included with VMAN, so you need another SolarWinds product before you can deploy VMAN.

Happily, I am also interested in what is going on inside my VMs and the applications that they run. My first SolarWinds product is Server and Application Monitor (SAM), which does include Orion. Deploying a new Windows Server 2012 VM reminded me why I love having all SSD, far less of the interminable waiting. SAM has its own Getting started guide page I chose to follow the directions on installing an evaluation copy of SAM as my lab is tiny and a real production-scale deployment would be overkill. At this stage, I am much more interested in what the product does than the details of how to fit it into a specific scale of customer. I did take a look at the planning document for a production deployment. I was disappointed to see that it has recommendations about using a physical SQL server and that all the hardware recommendations are based on physical servers and hard disk based storage. The installer process was pretty smooth, noting that I failed to meet the minimum 2CPU count and that I’d forgotten to install IIS. The Orion first run wizard sorted IIS and let me use my existing SQL server, including setting up a new SQL account on the database for the application.

A nice little wizard took me through scanning my network and providing credentials for discovered device types. SAM identified ESXi and vCentre on the network and recommended I install VMAN! SAM still wanted credentials for vCentre and ESXi, so I shall see how much virtualization SAM is aware of without VMAN, then add VMAN and see what changes.

The discovery process took a while to run, so I spent some time watching TV with my wife. I highly recommend spending the waiting time with your family. It makes the world a happier place, at least it does for me.

After discovery, I was unsurprised to find a few issues highlighted. The first was that my one domain controller, that also runs SQL, was short of memory. It seems that I did not increase its RAM when I upgraded my physical hardware last year. That was a quick fix, with a restart. I was surprised to see alerts for high packet loss on a couple of VMs. They are in the same port group on the same ESXi server as the SolarWinds server, so packet loss would be a surprise. It turns out that the packets were pings, the two VMs both have the Windows firewall active and blocking ICMP. It does seem that discovery uses different mechanisms to ongoing monitoring. The result is that not everything that is discovered can be automatically monitored. I have a few applications that were discovered but which are not monitored due to configuration issues.

I did make a strategic error. I turned on email alerting. When I restart that domain controller to increase its RAM I got a slew of notifications about components on the server. I needed to get was one notification that the machine was being shutdown intentionally and another that it was started again. What I didn’t need were notifications that components on the server were in an unknown state because the server was down. I quickly setup a new folder and inbox rule to stop these notifications obscuring important emails in my inbox. I also made a note to look into optimizing these email notifications, pushing them out of sight makes the notifications almost useless.

Poking around in the alerts lead me to my domain controller’s SQL and realizing that there were a few databases that could be removed. I have migrated my vCentre to the VCSA, so all the vCentre related databases were redundant, deleting them freed up a few GB of disk space and some RAM for SQL Express. Well, that is enough for my first few hours with SolarWinds. It is still telling me that SQL Express on my domain controller has problems and there are those unmonitored services too. I’m sure there is far more to find out about my lab and SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor. That will need to be another day, as will installing Virtualization Manager.


© 2017, Alastair. All rights reserved.

About Alastair

I am a professional geek, working in IT Infrastructure. Mostly I help to communicate and educate around the use of current technology and the direction of future technologies.
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