Networking for smarts

In this product review, we look at tools that can monitor network performance.



In this product review, we look at tools that can monitor network performance.


Contents
Packet shaping/bandwidth compression
Observer 10.1
AppManager v6.0
Lightspeed Systems Bandwidth Management
Specifications
How we tested
About RMIT

Network reliability, security, scalability, and bandwidth are all hot topics when it comes to networking. For a network administrator it means making sure the network is in a healthy state, critical servers can be reached, and even making sure users aren't abusing the Internet. The tools we examine in this feature look at all aspects of network management and monitoring.

The tools tested can do analysis, migration, monitoring, security, and testing. What's most impressive is that some of these tools can help you see problems immediately, taking the guesswork out of problem solving network issues. Some even use Expert Analysis to make a recommendation on how you should rectify your network problem.

Packet capture. Some of the software tools allow you to capture packets across your network then decode them for you. These tools can almost make perfect hacking tools since you will be able to sniff all the traffic on your network.

Expert systems. Expert systems on the other hand can offer real-time recommendations to potential network problems. The expert system can not only spot network anomalies but it can eliminate the guess work and give you the root cause of the problem.

Traffic generation. It is also possible to create different traffic loads to assist you with stress testing your network. This may be an area of interest for someone who would like to investigate how the network will stand up to increased traffic and more end users.

Remote analysis. Remote monitoring can make it easy and economical to extend your knowledge and expertise across your network. With some of these tools you can monitor distant sites directly from your desktop so you can zero in on problems. A worthy thing to find out is how many remote sessions you can run at any one time.

Probes. Many of these tools use probes to collect additional network statistics. There are software probes and hardware probes. Software probes sit on remote machines while hardware probes typically connect to a network switch on either your local or remote network. The is so you can have remote access to remote data without having to physically travel to the remote part of your network. These probes would be accessed through a central console or management machine.

There are probes that monitor 10/100/1000 networks, wireless networks, WAN links, gigabit trunk probes (Network Instruments-based probes). Network Instruments even offer complete hardware and software solutions in a ruggedised format called GOSS.

Reporting. We know these tools do a great job collecting data but how well do they display it? What you should be looking for is a package that can display different levels of detail and represent data in lists, dials, 3D pie graphs, and be able to publish reports in a variety of formats including HTML.


Contents
Introduction
Packet shaping/bandwidth compression
Observer 10.1
AppManager v6.0
Lightspeed Systems Bandwidth Management
Specifications
How we tested
About RMIT

Packet shaping/bandwidth compression

Packet shaping and bandwidth compression devices allow you to shape and compress data so you can lower your bandwidth costs. They also increase your network performance. Networking vendors like Cisco and Nortel offer routers with queuing capabilities and for someone who requires simple queuing or prioritisation, this may be all they need for basic shaping. However, when there is a need to distinguish specific applications within the traffic, routers will not be able to do much for you.

This is where dedicated packet shapers come into it as they can offer better policy enforcement than traditional network switches and routers.

Packet shapers primarily classify network traffic into categories based on applications, protocols, subnets, and URLs. They can match a user's IP address to specific applications like SAP or Kazaa.

They also allow you to analyse clients and servers with the slowest performance, as well as users who generate or receive the most network traffic. Typical data that can be attained from a packet shaper include the type of data being sent and received, the percentage of bandwidth wasted by re-transmission, the number of dropped packets in correlation with the matching application and server, and how much bandwidth goes to Web browsing, music, downloads, and e-mail.

There are many ways you can shape traffic; one way is capping traffic. For example, you can reserve a minimum of 20 percent of the WAN link for e-mail and set the virtual link to exceed the minimum if bandwidth is available but cap it at 50 percent of the link.

You can set all sorts of minimum and maximum bandwidth rates for specific applications. This way you can ensure a smooth and even flow rate that will maximise your throughput.

Then there are compression devices -- these will allow you to compress data, which can accelerate your traffic and minimise your network bandwidth costs, as you will be transferring less data.

These devices can also do some shaping but don't do it as well as dedicated packet shapers. Peribit for example make bandwidth compression devices that use pattern matching technology to compress data. They call it Molecular Sequence Reduction (MSR). The following table shows results on a variety of network traffic that uses MSR. This table was sourced from one of the white papers we found on MSR.

Application
MSR Data Reduction
E-mail75%
Exchange79%
MS SQL80%
SAP73%
Telnet67%
Oracle78%
File sharing81%
Lotus Notes78%
HTTP Servers96%
Search Servers84%
Image Servers70%

During the first transmission a bandwidth compression device will significantly reduce data and after that it starts matching traffic patterns to even further reduce the size of the data. The figures used here are quite impressive to say the least, however the results you get from the device will mainly depend on the type of data you are compressing. For example, if you were to transfer executable files over the network you probably won't be reducing the file sizes by much since the files are already packed very tightly, the same can be said about Zip or MP3 files. If you are interested in reading some white papers on MSR you will find plenty on the Peribit Web site.


Contents
Introduction
Packet shaping/bandwidth compression
Observer 10.1
AppManager v6.0
Lightspeed Systems Bandwidth Management
Specifications
How we tested
About RMIT

Observer 10.1

Observer by Network Instruments is a network protocol analyser, monitor, and troubleshooting tool. Observer isn't limited to only monitoring wired networks, it can also monitor your wireless network to provide you with an overall network monitoring solution. The Wireless Site Survey can see a, b, and g devices. What's really impressive is that it can show you what the link quality is like, the encryption status, and other information like the up time of the device and when the device was first and last seen on a per-device basis.

The Observer package has three levels of licensing; the standalone Observer which is what we looked at, the Expert Observer which enables you to pinpoint network problems through expert analysis, and the Observer Suite which includes the Expert Observer plus additional network management and analysis solutions.

The standalone Observer or console includes a local probe that makes the local network visible to it. In order to monitor multiple networks from a single console you have to install what is called a probe. These probes collect and report network traffic and report it back to the console.

The installation of the Observer was straightforward. There are only a few screens to get through and you're done, it really doesn't get much easier. Then the quickest way to collect information from your network is to run Discover Network Names function. All you have to do is specify your network range of addresses then what Observer does is resolve DNS names and IP addresses to give you a list of all your network devices.

You can then select the Top Talkers, which has to be one of the easiest functions to use. It allows you to see which devices are sending and receiving the most traffic on the network.

Router's can be examined for bottlenecks by using the Router Observer while Internet usage can be monitored by using the Internet Observer. The monitor here can determine which Internet protocols are in use and which Internet sites users are visiting.

In real time, it can also display the amount of bandwidth being utilised and how your network has been trending or performing over time.

Other features include packet capture and decode. Application analysis, which is included in the Expert Observer and Observer Suite can monitor your critical servers to make sure they are performing satisfactorily. It can show you response times as well as error counts associated with your servers. The Real-Time Expert, which is also part of the Expert Observer and Observer Suite can analyse a problem on your network then give you a reason for what may be causing the problem.

The overall design and layout of this tool was excellent. It makes it easy for someone to gaze over and quickly see what's happening on their network. Network data can also be viewed in a variety of formats including lists, dials, and 3D pie. It can also be exported into easy to read Web-based reports.

Product Observer 10.1
Price

Expert Observer 10.1 AU$4015
Observer Suite 10.1 AU$5604.50

Vendor Digital Networks Australia
Phone 1300 723 600
Web www.dna.com.au/netinst
 
Interoperability
Supports most common network topologies.
Futureproofing
Many software and hardware probes available.
ROI
All combinations of the software represent good value.
Service
Phone and Web support is free with the purchase of a maintenance agreement.
Rating
Observer 10.1

Click to enlarge


Contents
Introduction
Packet shaping/bandwidth compression
Observer 10.1
AppManager v6.0
Lightspeed Systems Bandwidth Management
Specifications
How we tested
About RMIT

AppManager v6.0

AppManager is a systems management tool that lets you manage your applications and infrastructure. Its main aim is to increase network availability and manage service levels. This tool is designed to monitor the health of all your critical servers in Windows and Unix environments. More so it allows you to create specific monitoring policies, which will alert you if your critical server's aren't performing the way they should.

Installing AppManager can be quite a lengthy process to say the least. There are so many components to install and you may find it a bit daunting trying to understand how everything ties in together.

AppManager works on multi-tier architecture. The main components are the Console, which you use to configure and control the execution of your monitors -- or what NetIQ know as Knowledge Scripts. The second tier comprises of the Repository, which is the SQL Database that serves as the data repository. The third tier is the Management Server, which is the service daemon the agents on Windows and Unix clients use to communicate with the Repository. The fourth tier is the Intelligent Agent -- these are agents that have to be distributed on every server you want to monitor. They receive requests from the Management Server to run and stop monitoring jobs.

AppManager has a pre-installation feature which checks to see whether the components you are about to install pass the system requirements. We found we had to go back a few times to fix up the errors that came up with items not being preinstalled. Once we got passed the pre-installation, we ran the installation. Again, it wasn't an easy process as there are a number of screens you have to carefully read and hope you didn't make any mistakes anywhere. In all, the installation took us about an hour, which is a lot more than we are used to.

Included in AppManager are more than 400 of these predefined Knowledge Scripts. You can also create your own monitoring scripts. Some of the out-of-the-box monitors you can use include:

  • Citrix Metaframe: checks if key services are down, and if they are, restarts them.
  • Microsoft Active Directory: monitors disk space usage.
  • Red Hat Linux: monitors CPU usage for all processes.
  • Apache Web Server: verifies whether your Web Server is able to service all incoming requests.
  • Veritas Net Backup: monitors the number of failed backups.
  • Microsoft Exchange/Lotus Domino: reports the top senders and receivers of e-mail.
  • Microsoft SQL/Oracle: identifies which SQL statements are demanding the most system resources.
So as you can see, this tool monitors all critical applications but it can also measure application performance and application responsiveness from a users point of view. AppManager also comes with hardware management tools, that can detect faulty hardware.

With all this data you are going to want to be able to create reports. AppManager has some very powerful charting capabilities.For example, with its 3D charting you can do real-time rotation as well as have the ability to export charts to Microsoft Word and Excel.

Product AppManager v6.0
Price Operator Console AU$4167 and
ResponseTime Modules AU$2000 (10 pack)
Vendor Net IQ
Phone 02 9925 2100
Web www.netiq.com
 
Interoperability
Supports most common network topologies.
Futureproofing
Response modules are the key to providing additional monitoring in the future.
ROI
Excellent range of features for the price.
Service
Essential and Premium Care options available.
Rating
AppManager v6.0

Click to enlarge


Contents
Introduction
Packet shaping/bandwidth compression
Observer 10.1
AppManager v6.0
Lightspeed Systems Bandwidth Management
Specifications
How we tested
About RMIT

Lightspeed Systems Bandwidth Management

Lightspeed Systems have a bandwidth management tool that can guarantee the bandwidth for your critical applications.

It does this by blocking or limiting the bandwidth that is used by non-priority applications. This is similar to what packet shapers do.

This tool can monitor everyone's activities from:

  • File names and sizes of uploads/downloads
  • Search-engine keywords used
  • Instant messaging sessions
  • Applications inventory and usage
  • Unknown/suspicious programs
  • Processes run
  • E-mails sent and received
  • Virus activity
  • Busiest traffic types (http, https, SMTP, Kazaa, Gnutella, etc.)
The great part of this tool is you can block peer-to-peer traffic on any port even if it's on port 80. This tool can also allow you to filter traffic by content so if an inappropriate or bandwidth sapping site is being access this can be blocked or bandwidth can be limited to this particular site.

Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to test this product because of our tight deadline for this month. If you're interested in testing this product yourself be warned of the system requirements.

Just to give you an idea you will need a Windows machine loaded with IIS, SQL Server 2000, and Microsoft.NET Framework 1.1. The minimum hardware requirements for this software are an Intel P4 2.0GHz processor with 1GB of RAM (2GB recommended), and two Ethernet cards.

Specifications

Product Name AppManager v6.0 Observer 10.1
Vendor Net IQ Digital Networks Australia
Telephone 02 9925 2100 1300 723 600
Web site www.netiq.com www.dna.com.au/netinst
RRP range (inc GST) Operator Console AU$4167
responseTime Modules AU$2000 (10 pack)
Observer 10.1 AU$1309
Expert Observer 10.1 AU$4015
Observer Suite 10.1 AU$5604.50
Features
Real-time statistics Yes Yes
Expert analysis & troublshooting Yes Yes
Performance monitoring
Ability to measure application performance Yes Yes
Use of Probes to collect information Yes Yes
Reporting
Requires SQL for reporting Yes No
Export reports to Web/Word/Excel Yes Web only
Alarms
Uses triggers and alarms Yes Yes
Packet capabilities
Packet capture and decode No Yes
Traffic generator No Yes
Application blocking
Ability to block applications - e.g Kazaa No No
Packet shaping
Ability to limit application bandwidth No No
Other
Support for LaN, wireless networks Yes Yes
Support for Windows & Unix/ Linux Systems Yes Yes
System requirements
Recommended Intel Pentium 350MHz+
128MB RAM or more
450MB HDD or more
Windows 2000 Server/ advanced
SQL Server 2000
Intel Pentium 1GHz
512MB RAM or more


Contents
Introduction
Packet shaping/bandwidth compression
Observer 10.1
AppManager v6.0
Lightspeed Systems Bandwidth Management
Specifications
How we tested
About RMIT

How we tested

We evaluated each tool on a P4 2.6GHz machine with 512MB of RAM running Windows 2000 Advanced Server. We had 30 PCs connected to our network across four switches and single router to the outside world. We tested each tool in these areas:

Interoperability: We looked at the network topologies it supports (for example Ethernet 10/100/1000 & Wireless a, b and g networks.

Futureproofing: What upgrade features are available?

ROI: What do you get for your money?

Service: What service and support is available.


Sample scenario

This company wants to measure the performance and application responsiveness of its Exchange and Apache Web Servers from a user's point of view.

Approximate budget: Open, as long as the product pays for itself.
Requires: Network management software.
Concerns: Ease of management, the ability to measure response times and produce detailed reports.
Winner: AppManager

AppManager is the most suitable product here. It can be used to measure SLAs and would be ideal for a company needing to measure the performance of critical applications. It can also monitor a large number of applications running on Windows, Unix, and Linux-based systems.

Originally we set out to review bandwidth monitoring products but two out of three the products submitted focused more on network and systems management, with bandwidth monitoring being a small component. The Lightspeed Systems product, however, is a pure bandwidth management tool, however it arrived at the Labs too late for us to properly test and compare it to the other products. For this reason we aren't awarding Editor's Choice in this review.

Having said that, if you are looking for a product to only manage bandwidth, out of the products listed here you would be best off going with Lightspeed Systems -- it focuses on identifying users that use file sharing applications and also allows you to shape your bandwidth by giving priority bandwidth to specific applications.

When making a decision on which network and systems management tool is the most appropriate ask yourself whether you need a tool that just monitors your network, helps you troubleshoot network problems, or keeps an eye on system SLAs.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
Click here for subscription information.


Contents
Introduction
Packet shaping/bandwidth compression
Observer 10.1
AppManager v6.0
Lightspeed Systems Bandwidth Management
Specifications
How we tested
About RMIT

About RMIT IT Test Labs

RMIT IT Test Labs

RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own -- only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.