SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager
Strengths: Simple to deploy, very clean to use and SolarWinds’ decades of experience with internet-working devices – especially Cisco – really shows. Functionality, while not as extensive as some much larger systems, is right on target for its purpose.
Weaknesses: None that we found.
Verdict: For its clean, bare-bones, well-targeted functionality, extensive reporting and remediation capability at a very low cost of ownership, we make this one our Best Buy this month.
SolarWinds always has been known for its ability to discover, access and manage internet-working devices. In recent years, however, it has pulled all of its capabilities together in its network configuration manager (NCM). While it may seem a bit odd that we have included the NCM in this particular group test, actually it makes perfect sense since a big part of the NCM's job is to notice and report on configuration changes.
This is important, not just to the network admin team but also to auditors. Knowing that the configuration manager is keeping the device in compliance and reporting on deviations is critical to some types of mandates, such as PCI. In support of that requirement, SolarWinds provides canned reports for DISA, STIG, NIST, FISMA, HIPAA, DSS PCI and Sarbanes-Oxley. Remediation can be manual or automated.
NCM is an on-premises tool that requires Windows Server 2008 or higher and SQL Server 2008 or newer. It installs SQL Express automatically, but if you have a larger enterprise you'll need the full version. It does, as you would expect, automatic asset discovery. It has a solid workflow and, using role-based authentication, stops unauthorised access to any particular workflow preventing unauthorised changes using the workflow.
We started by dropping into the Configuration Summary screen. This shows us what has been done, what is scheduled to be done, vulnerabilities in the firmware, policy violations and overall policy report violations, among several other important pieces of information. The screen is divided into three main areas: compliance, policy-alerting and reporting, configuration backup and configuration management.
SolarWinds NCM is vendor agnostic. The company supports a large number of third-party vendors. The list of available compliance policy reports is impressive as is the drill-down capability. For example, the drill-down for a Cisco device shows everything that you need to know about the device, including its configuration, violations and the ability to create your own policy on the fly. Building rules is easy and quick. There is, of course, a full audit log of everything that was done and the tool can identify and support end of support/end of life products, decommissioning them without disrupting other devices.
While the remediation section is optional, you can create your own remediation workflow templates. SolarWinds will automate the change process for you if you wish. The tool interfaces directly with Service Now out of the box; however, if you're up for a little programming you can write an integration with other tools using their scripting language. Out of the box, every night NCM automatically pulls the configurations of all of the devices that it is watching on the enterprise, but you can change that interval.
To get the vulnerability listings update, the device connects automatically. The tool keeps Cisco and NIST standards up to date. Part of its analysis is Cisco-specific. It reports on the current IOS version and images on each of your Cisco devices.
The web portal is excellent, containing not only marketing materials but useful technical documentation. The Thwack community is full of the usual good stuff you expect from an active online product community. In this regard, SolarWinds's decades of experience really show. Price is excellent and support is included at the basic level. There also is an option for an extra fee support services.
Overall, NCM shows how important to managing compliance the management of internet-working devices can be and, in many regards, this approach is far easier to implement than other much larger systems. With all of the necessary reporting, NCM addresses the auditor, the executive manager and the technology team equally well.