Fluke OptiView XG Network Analysis Tablet

  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent


  • Incredibly powerful
  • Portable


  • Very expensive
  • Most useful on well-managed networks

The OptiView XG is a Windows 7 touchscreen tablet PC with additional hardware and software that turn it into a network analysis tool. A range of options allow it to connect to most current wired and wireless networks and gather information and statistics about how well the networks and attached devices are functioning. It uses a series of point-and-click dashboards to report on issues from basic connectivity to application response times and possible causes of delays. It's a very powerful troubleshooting tool for large networks — but it comes at a hefty price.

The OptiView XG uses basic network sniffing, SNMP, NetFlow and other management protocols to find out what's happening in your network. It then categorises problematical devices based on various thresholds. The dashboards then allow you to open more detailed views of each reported problem. If this sounds a bit vague, it reflects the sheer variety of information that the OptiView XG is capable of reporting. It's also highly customisable, so if the information you get on the default dashboards doesn't suit your needs, you can change them. To help you solve problems, the OptiView XG can perform several types of analysis on the results, all the way up to wire-speed packet capture if necessary.

The OptiView XG is a highly specialised 10in. Windows 7 tablet, designed for sophisticated network analysis and problem-solving

The 10.25in. tablet measures 31.57cm wide by 24cm deep by 5.16cm thick and weighs just over 2.5kg. It comes with a shoulder strap and two hand straps at the back, so you can cradle the unit in one arm to work. There's also a fold-out stand.

The pressure-sensitive touchscreen can be operated with a finger, the supplied stylus or any other hard pointy object. Some Windows controls are quite small on-screen, making the stylus a must when you're doing detailed work. Alternatively you can plug in a USB keyboard and/or mouse if you need to. Fluke claims a battery life of around two hours, but as the unit uses two separate battery packs, you can swap in replacements without having to shut down.

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You can run the OptiView XG's dashboard application on a separate PC and connect to the tablet remotely, allowing you to plug it into your datacentre while still being able to work from the comfort of your desk.

The OptiView XG's home page provides an overview of your network's topology and devices, giving you a quick summary of network health

Getting started is easy. Plug the OptiView XG into your network and it will start discovering as much information as it can using a combination of network snooping and port scanning. For the size of network on which it's worth using the OptiView XG, this process will take a long time, so it's coffee time at that point. You can also attach to networks wirelessly if you've bought that option, but this is likely to slow down discovery — and the unit can discover wireless access points and devices from the wired side of the network anyway.

The Discovery screen shows you the parts of your network the OptiView XG has found, and allows you to filter by network location or device type

After discovery is complete, you're presented with the results in the default dashboards. Even in factory configuration, you get a large amount of information: the overview on the home page gives you a summary of how many devices of varying types the OptiView XG has found, and what percentage of them have issues that require attention. If the OptiView XG hasn't found parts of your network automatically, you can configure specific IP address ranges to scan.

The Problems screen lists any devices the OptiView XG considers to have issues; for each one there's an explanation of the problem, and a suggestion of how to solve it (you can clear any problems you're not worried about)

You can now start to mould the OptiView XG to fit your network and your priorities. For example, you can make some devices 'key devices' and just see your core services on a single page. You can also tell the unit to ignore any 'problem' that doesn't worry you, so it won't show up again.

You can get an overview of the traffic on your network, and then drill down into any issues that you see in the results

For problems that do need dealing with, you can read the OptiView XG's canned advice or use it to drill down further into the devices involved. You can jump straight to the device view to see its configuration details, or go even further and do full packet capture if necessary. You'll either need to be able to mirror a device's port at the switch it's connected to, or have switches with NetFlow capabilities, which can do small packet captures in the switch.

If everything at the lower layers of the network seems fine, the OptiView XG can perform full packet capture and protocol analysis to see where any reported problems lie

The OptiView XG's Path Analysis feature gives you the ability to examine every network component between two points. If a user reports a network problem, you can use this to see if there really is a problem — and if so where it lies. In many cases it can do this without you having to leave your desk, so it can save you a lot of time just travelling around the building.

When a user reports a problem with a network service, you can use the OptiView XG's Path Analysis function to see if there are any network issues between their PC and the machine providing the service — often without having to leave your desk

The OptiView XG does what it does very well. It can collect vast amounts of information from just about any network-connected device. The software's point-and-click interface allows you to drill into the information the device has collected quickly and easily, and you can diagnose some networking problems without needing to visit the affected parts of the network. However, to gather that information you need to have a well-managed network in the first place. If you've just set up equipment on an ad-hoc basis without setting up extra management functions, the OptiView XG will only be able to provide a minimum of information. Equally, once you've identified the problem you still have to know how to solve it — the OptiView XG won't do it for you.

Lastly, there's the price. The simplest model in the range is over £16,000, while the unit we had for review costs more than £24,000. You're unlikely to be able to spend that kind of money on a single device without a good reason, so you'll need to have a very large network comprising thousands of devices to justify the cost. Also, you'll already be spending a measurable number of hours per week dealing with network problems of some kind. If you can't tick those boxes, it doesn't matter how good the OptiView XG is (and it is very good), it will never repay your investment.