SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager
Strengths: Very flexible and functional network device policy and compliance management tool.
Weaknesses: A little difficult to use at first.
Verdict: Typical SolarWinds: solid, dependable and flexible.
The SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager offers the ability to check all network devices, including routers, switches and firewalls, throughout the network environment against compliance and policy templates. This product includes a vast amount of vendor flexibility and can manage devices from Cisco and Juniper, as well as many other devices, such as Nortel and 3Com. This flexibility guarantees that pretty much any device anywhere in the network can be managed using this tool. Furthermore, this product can generate multiple types of reports that can be launched on demand or scheduled and delivered via email to those that need to see them.
Overall, we had a good experience with this product in the way of ease of use. The installation was quite simple and took only a few minutes after launching the downloadable installer. The installer executable put in place all the necessary components to run the product and once complete all management and configuration is done via the management console. We found the management console itself to be relatively simple to use, but it did take us some time of browsing around to become thoroughly comfortable with the interface. The main dashboard is the first thing that pops up on the screen after logging into the console. We found this to provide a lot of great information, including active alerts at a glance along with an overview of all of the devices in the network.
After the dashboard, the rest of the interface is based around configuration management, and there is a lot of functionality in this area of the appliance. It is here that administrators can easily view a configuration summary, manage configuration and policy templates, view a full network inventory list and manage compliance. We also found this product to offer quite a few preloaded compliance policy reports. Adding to the overall compliance piece is the ability of this product to interface directly with user-created policy templates that are shared on the SolarWinds online community thwack.
Documentation included quick-start and full administrator guides. The quick-start guide offered a great amount of detail on how to install the product and get a base configuration in place, while the administrator guide focused on advanced configuration and use of the product features. We found both to be well-organized and to include many step-by-step instructions that were easy to follow, but there was a lack of screen shots throughout the documentation. We really like to see screen shots because they help more clearly illustrate how to configure the product and where on the interface to click rather than having the user scan around the interface trying to find a radio button or link.
SolarWinds offers the first year of product support as part of the initial purchase price of the product. After the first year, customers can purchase additional assistance starting at around $500 per year based on support-tier level.At a price just shy of $2,500, including the first year of support, we find this to be a very good value for the money. This product brings together a strong combination of policy management and compliance features that can make managing network devices more convenient for administrators.