Last week I had the honor to server as a Tech Field Day delegate and hear a presentation by SolarWinds. SolarWinds is primarily known as a Network Monitoring and Management company. Over the years, they’ve built a large community of IT Pros who use their software. I first learned about them through the tools SolarWinds provides for free, such as the TFTP server app. Back when I was in charge of managing network equipment like routers and switches, the TFTP server was a lifesaver for updating switch firmware. Later, I would use their Network Performance Monitor (NPM) tool to track the performance of the overall network. I was curious to see where SolarWinds was at this point in time as well as to get a glimpse of where they might be headed.
I learned that the SolarWinds portfolio had grown to a staggering 50+ products. I found out that they now cover a diverse set of enterprise needs including - network management, systems management, database management, IT security, helpdesk, and DevOps. SolarWinds expanded their portfolio of offerings through a combination of internal product teams and acquisitions. There appeared to be a strong sense of pride in the ability of the internal product teams to implement new features. This came through in some discussions of buy vs. build. I also learned that the user community has grown to 150,000+ registered members in their global THWACK community. SolarWinds leans heavily on those users to help set direction through idea voting, customer feedback, etc.
I could see a few areas where challenges might exist for the end user. Customers choosing between 50 products is a daunting task. There is frustration in knowing that they have a fix for your problem, but you might not know which product or combination of products best meets your need. Dealing with SKUs and licensing is no administrator’s idea of a good time.
But aside from that, there are some very encouraging signs. First, SolarWinds attempts to lower customer frustration by matching customer interfaces where possible. So even when you bounce from app to app, there are hooks and style queues for customers to follow. Second, SolarWinds is aggressively integrating tech such as machine learning into new products to assist administrators with anomaly detection. While many companies make big AI claims, they have a very focused view at present which allows them to deliver value instead of a buzzword. The third encouraging aspect I see is the customer focus. The design philosophy is that the solution will be addressed from the point of view of the specific administrator. For example, if you are a network admin, you will the see the issue from the network perspective. Sysadmin tools help them see it from the sysadmin view. It’s a neat concept, but more importantly, it makes sense to do this wherever you can.
On a personal note, I always enjoy hearing the thought processes that go into product design. It’s comforting to me to know that products and features aren’t randomly selected, or hastily being deployed to ride a market trend. SolarWinds has been out there doing their thing for years now chugging away, improving current products and growing in areas where it makes sense organically.
I’ve embedded the SolarWinds Strategy and Vision as presented by SolarWinds’ CTO Joe Kim. Additional presentations are available from the Tech Field Day 18 website.
Disclaimer: Tech Field Day (TFD) pays for my travel, hotel, and meals during the events. Vendors might also provide small items similar to what is provided at conferences such as stickers, key chains, t-shirts, etc. TFD nor any of the presenting companies pay for my blogging.