Executive Summary:Network Performance Monitor (NPM) is the SolarWinds Orion entry in the monitoring and alerting systems market. It uses Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) ping requests as well as Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) queries and Cisco IOS NetFlow to gather connectivity and response-time information.

Network Performance Monitor (NPM) is part of the SolarWinds Orion web-based product line, introduced in 2001. NPM is a mature, fully featured monitoring and alerting system that provides basic SNMP monitoring; add-on modules provide options geared toward large networks.

NPM uses Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) ping requests to gather basic connectivity and response-time information and, for network devices that support this, can gather additional information by using SNMP queries and Cisco IOS NetFlow. NPM can also receive Syslog output and SNMP traps for error detection and alerting. Licensing for NPM is per monitored interface, and the product features modular pricing so you can buy only the features you need. Add-on modules let Orion NPM monitor NetFlow devices, wireless appliances, and VoIP networks and also let NPM monitor more devices as your network grows.

NPM Components

SolarWinds Orion NPM

PROS: Mature SNMP-based network performance monitor; lets you add wireless, VoIP, and NetFlow monitoring support as needed; provides easily configurable custom alerts and reports
CONS: New, web-based interface lacks some features of traditional GUI
RATING: 4 diamonds out of 5
PRICE: Starts at $2,475 for 100 network interfaces
RECOMMENDATION: Whether you want basic enterprise network monitoring or a full suite of network diagnostic tools and monitors, I recommend Orion 9 for its full feature set and ease of use.
CONTACT: SolarWinds • www.solarwinds.com • 866-530-8100

A standard NPM installation is designed to effectively monitor and manage up to 1,000 nodes. You can monitor much larger networks with help from other SolarWinds products. The product runs on Windows Server 2003, using Microsoft IIS for the NPM web console, and sets up eight SolarWinds services on the server. SolarWinds will add support for running Orion 9 on Windows Server 2008 next year.

NPM includes two UIs. System Manager, a GUI that runs from the NPM server’s console, is the traditional interface for configuring NPM. The Orion Web Console, new in version 9, is becoming the primary interface for monitoring and managing network and node status but doesn’t yet support some activities, such as network discovery and alert configuration. The Start menu includes almost two dozen other support programs that let you customize your NPM installation. For example, with Map Maker you can create your own active network map, replacing the web console default map that Figure 1 shows.

The Custom Attributes feature lets you select and group sets of network devices for management and reporting. You can create a custom attribute to group nodes, interfaces, or volumes (the three classes of network assets that NPM monitors) and define it to contain numeric, text, or date/time data. You can assign values either manually or by importing a spreadsheet containing the data. NPM‘s account-management elements let you create custom NPM user accounts and limit what they can do.

NPM’s alerting system is powerful, flexible, and relatively easy to use. NPM can generate alerts when an event occurs or when a monitored value for a node, interface, or volume passes a threshold. NPM supports 13 alert actions, including a standard complement of notification options, automatic execution of a script or program when a particular event occurs, and an escalation sequence if an alert isn’t acknowledged within a designated period of time. You can define alert actions according to time of day and day of the week and specify other conditions to suppress an alert. If the situation that triggered the alert no longer exists, or if other conditions you designate occur, NPM automatically resets the alert and executes other actions you specify.

Adding It Up
NPM features other nuggets, such as support for polling custom SNMP Management Information Bases (MIBs). Although NPM’s flexibility and full feature set demonstrate its maturity as a product, the new web UI in version 9 still has room for enhancement. You’ll find yourself moving between the web UI for most routine tasks and the System Manager GUI and its associated utilities for other configuration and customization projects. Whether you’re in the market for basic SNMP network performance monitoring or need a full suite of network diagnostic tools and application monitors, SolarWinds belongs on your short list.