SQL Server Monitoring – A New Player?

Whenever I hear about the company SolarWinds, I most readily think about their Network Management and Patch Manager software.  This is due to the fact that both my current and previous companies used those products and seemed to be happy with them.  So, when I heard that they were going to enter the SQL Server space for monitoring, with their Server and Application Monitor product, I was eager to see how their monitoring product for SQL Server would compare to the other more established players that I have reviewed in the past (https://sqlbadboy.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/sql-server-monitoring-tools/).  Now, I have to be honest.  Normally, when I hear of a company first entering the SQL Server monitoring space, I don’t always have high expectations for what I will find.  But, with this product, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

SolarWinds’ Server and Application Monitor (includes AppInsight for SQL Server)

  • Product site: http://www.solarwinds.com/sql-server-performance.aspx
  • Demo:http://systems.demo.solarwinds.com/Orion/Apm/Summary.aspx/
  • Installation: The installation of the product was relatively simple, and the detailed administrator guide helped out quite a bit with the setup and configuration.  After the initial installation, I did not have any servers added to monitoring.  However, this was not a huge problem because it was easy to add servers, whether you were using the network scanning tool, which was configurable to scan IP address ranges, or even if you were adding servers manually.  Also, I really liked that I did not have to install any agents on the monitored servers.
  • Dashboard: This product has a very user friendly web based client.  It uses a variety of visual aids (i.e. charts, graphs, colors) to present the collected information and draw your attention to areas of concern.  Additionally, I felt the dashboard contained valuable information about the server (i.e. hardware, operating system and networking), which is not always found in every SQL Server monitoring solution.  One of the features I really liked was a section called “Expert Knowledge”, which accompanied many of the performance counters.  This feature gave a definition of the metric, an explanation of what the possible problem may be, and ideas of how to remediate the issue.  I felt like that feature could really be a great way for less experienced DBA’s to learn.  Also, the community forum, thwack, and training links that are embedded in the application are a good way to get the most from the tool.
  • Analysis: This product does contain the ability to do some basic analysis.  You can examine performance data from specific time periods and even get a limited amount of top query information.  Unfortunately, the amount of query data collected did not appear to be configurable, which would help with a more in depth analysis of what has been running, which is a nice option that is present in some other monitoring tools.
  • Alerting & Reporting: This product has a very good alerting system.  Not only are the alerts displayed on the dashboards of the web client, but they are also configurable with many options, such as sending messages, logging, and running programs.  Additionally, the thresholds on what is considered a warning or even critical on these alerts can be adjusted for your environment.  However, there is a separate client application which configures the alerts, since you are limited with the web client.  Also, I feel like one of the highlights of the reporting system is how easy it is to customize a report and add it to the repository.
  • Extra features: This product has the ability to monitor more than just database servers (see platforms supported: http://thwack.solarwinds.com/docs/DOC-167037) and it can integrate with other SolarWinds products, although I did not try that out that functionality.  This can be really advantageous to an IT department as they try to consolidate the number of products used for application and server management.
  • Cost: $2,995.00 for 150 monitors, which is about $1,000 per SQL Server instance (50 monitors count against each SQL Server instance) (http://www.solarwinds.com/products/pricing/)

 Overall thoughts: SolarWinds’ Server and Application Monitor, which includes AppInsight for SQL Server, can be very useful to a database administrator.  The product is very easy to use and really covers all the basics needed in a complete SQL Server monitoring tool.  Although the amount of query analysis you can do seems a little limited, there are other features in this product that make this a strong monitoring solution.  This includes its knowledge management, integration with other SolarWinds IT management tools, and customizable alerts and reporting that should make anyone looking for a SQL Server performance monitoring solution at least test this one out to see if it will meet their needs.

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