Faced with hundreds, or thousands, of poorly labelled ports in a network, whether it is safe to disconnect a possibly faulty port or not is often a difficult question to answer.
A product from UK company Porttracker promises a quick and relatively inexpensive way to find out whether the network will crash if the wrong port is closed down.
Using the Porttracker appliance on a standard laptop or system, IT and communications managers can view all the devices that are linked to the network via communications ports and show those that are working, the information that is being transferred and speeds. Crucially, the appliance will flag up devices that have failed for any reason or are simply unused.
"Network managers do not know who or what is connected to their network," said Julian Rigg, chief executive of Porttracker. "We have done some research that shows that around 50 percent of networks are at risk [because of this]."
The research on IT managers in the UK, which came out this week, suggests that 26 percent of network-maintenance spending goes on troubleshooting problems, while 24 percent of network managers said their greatest expense was on security and 19 percent said it was on buying new hardware.
Rigg said he believes Porttracker can particularly help tackle the need to buy new equipment. "Many needless replacements are done because network managers do not know which ports are not being used," he said. "Just recouping that money can mean that Porttracker pays for itself almost immediately."
Porttracker is designed for companies with 1,000 or more ports and starts at £5,000 for that number of ports. It is available worldwide and works with Cisco, HP ProCurve and other types of switches. Although Porttracker is the company's first product, it has been in development for around three years.
Despite Cisco and other companies providing very similar products, Rigg said there is plenty of room for Porttracker.
"With the big network companies, you get a product that is usually expensive," he said. "We soon find out that people want a product that is powerful, gives them the information they need to see what is happening on their network, and is [at] a reasonable cost."