SolarWinds Thwack Community

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 10.13.49 PMAugust has come and gone, and with it my Thwack Ambassador status. You might be wondering what that means. Perhaps you thought @amyengineer with her sparkly bat was the ambassador of thwack. This is not the thwack you are looking for. This thwack is the SolarWinds Thwack Community. SolarWinds, as you likely already know, is a software company that provides a variety of network and system management/monitoring tools. Their tools are good, easy to use, and reasonably priced. Their marketing is amusing and occasionally inspired (see The Joy of Whiteboarding with Rob Boss). The Thwack Community is an open forum for discussion of network management topics. Forums exist for the SolarWinds tools as well as general discussion. A Thwack Ambassador is given the job to spur conversation in their assigned topic areas in order to encourage participation in the forums. This is done through weekly blog posts on Thwack and my assigned area was network management. I’ve included the intro to each week below, but if you want to read more, you’ll have to follow the link to the thwack website. :)

The Discussions

For week one I asked, “What is a well managed network?

What is network management and what constitutes a well managed network? Is it monitoring devices and links to ensure they are “up?” Is it backing up your device configurations? Is it tracking bandwidth utilization? Network management is all this and more. We often seem to confuse network monitoring with network management, but monitoring is really just the start.

This post generated the most discussion and it was interesting to see the variety of views expressed from different perspectives. One user even created a nice outline of what we decided made up a well managed network.

On week two we discussed “Thinking in terms of availability.

Network monitoring tracks the state of the network and is primarily looking for faults. At the most basic level, we want to know if devices and interfaces are “up.” This is a simple binary reachability test. Your device is either reachable or not, it’s either “up” or “down.” However, just because a device is reachable does not mean there are no faults in the network. If a circuit is dropping packets, performance may be impacted and can make the circuit unusable even though it is “up.” Time to stop thinking in terms of reachability and start thinking in terms of availability.

The comments to this post were mostly people nodding in agreement, though one reader brought up the idea of acceptability, as well.

During week three I reminded everyone that “Useful alerts help you be proactive.

You may need to have an alert sent if an interface goes down in the data center, but you almost certainly don’t want an alert if an interface goes down for a user’s desktop. You don’t need (or want) an alert for every event in the network. If you receive alerts for everything, it becomes difficult to find the ones that really matter in the noise. Unnecessary alerts train people to ignore all alerts, since those that represent real issues are (hopefully) few. Remember the story of the boy who cried wolf? Keep your alerts useful.

This post had a nice little discussion talking about ways to make the alerts useful, like including severity in the subject of the alert.

Finally, in week four I asked, “What’s on your network?

There is a credit card commercial that asks, “What’s in your wallet?” I’m going to ask, “What’s in your network?” Sure, you might be able to tell me what’s in your network right now, but can you still tell me about a device when it’s down? Its model and serial number? The modules or line cards installed? Which interfaces are in use and how much bandwidth they use?

This question focused more on documentation, which received the obligatory head nodding and a little snark. There was also a side thread that brought up the lack of communications between teams (silos).

Closing Thought

I hope you found these discussions of interest, and maybe got you thinking a little more or a little differently about something. I can’t help but think of a rant posted by @etherealmind titled, “You Are Not A Precious Snowflake. IT Infrastructure Is The Same Everywhere.

Vendors keep telling me that every business is different and customer have different needs. We all buy the same products from the same companies, use the same deployment methodologies and best practices, have the same problems and deliver the same results to the business. You aren’t a precious snowflake.

I was looking at the discussions and thinking that we are all talking about the same sets of problems and appreciating the same sets of solutions, yet I’m sure the organizations we all work for are wildly different. I’m sure you’ve noticed this when talking with other IT professionals, too. In reality, our infrastructures are not all that dissimilar. I think that’s actually a good thing, but it is something to ponder…


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