Network diagnostic tools

for buyers

& Related Stories

The term network diagnostics evokes an image of engineers crawling in overhead
wiring ducts and carrying hardware and software probes to measure cable signal parameters
or wielding protocol analyzers to record and display network traffic data.

Face it. Periodically there will be engineers in the attic. When it happens, products
such as Network Associates Inc.’s Sniffer series and Tekelec’s Chameleon 32+ are
invaluable. A list of some of these tools appears on Page 32.

But the main focus in this Buyers Guide is on high-end, enterprise-level software
diagnostic tools for monitoring, testing and reporting on network activities.

When John Kyler, manager of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric
Administration’s mission-critical network, faced the task of combining a dozen campus
LANs into one unified system at NOAA headquarters, he first needed to establish a
performance baseline on his LANs.

Kyler had to ensure that the switch to NOAA’s centralized network didn’t
result in a loss of crucial weather information to the Navy and Air Force. Even a
temporary failure of network connections could have impaired NOAA’s ability to
process warnings about weather conditions and resulted in dire situations for those
depending on the agency’s forecasts.

Kyler used Concord Communications Inc.’s Network Health diagnostic and network
management software, first to monitor the campus LANs and determine their overall health,
then to optimize his new network.

“Network Health gave me the baseline information I needed before I could start the
consolidation to a unified network,” Kyler said. The software also helped ease the
frustrations of a task as large and demanding as NOAA’s network reorganization, he

Diagnostic software tools come in various types:

Despite their diversity, the systems have much in common: Most run under Microsoft
Windows NT or Unix. Almost all are proactive—they provide most of their performance
monitoring, diagnostics and reporting automatically according to hourly, daily, weekly and
annual schedules.

Most come with online, telephone or pager alarms in case of network faults. Nearly all
provide graphical network maps and highly detailed reports in graphical as well as
statistical formats. Most provide end-to-end network overviews, right down to users’
desktops and application use.

Most use Simple Network Management Protocols and remote monitoring protocols for data
gathering, which lets them interact with SNMP and RMON network management systems
developed by other vendors. Increasing numbers of them use Web browsers for record
gathering, recording and reporting.

Network managers who must daily find and put out fires on complex, multiplatform
networks want tools that automatically diagnose network problems and fix them before they
cause too many problems. Good diagnostic tools don’t come cheap, but what price would
federal information systems managers put on mission-critical networks?

A report from International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., indicates that even a
midsize organization can lose $1 million or more in productivity annually because of
network downtime.

The Meta Group, market researchers in Stamford, Conn., estimates the market for network
performance analysis and reporting will grow from $120 million in 1997 to more than $700
million in 2000.

The goal of any diagnostic program is to detect a fault anywhere in a network and fix
it before it becomes too serious. To do this, it must use most or all of these functions:

Specific network activities may result in automatic report generation; others occur
periodically as a result of anomalous activities. Utilization and error summaries as well
as capacity reports may be generated. The reports themselves can be generated in many
formats, including text synopses, graphical charts and hard copy.

Products are distinguished by various features designed to appeal to specific
categories of users.

Network Associates Inc. has built its Total Network Visibility Suite around its Sniffer
Pro ’98 Network Analyzer, a network probe that uses more than 385 protocol decodes to
analyze network traffic and spot problems that cause downtime or slow responses.

Components in the Visibility suite enable customized monitoring and analysis of
high-speed backbone segments, campus WAN and LAN links and remote departmental office

Network Informant is a browser-based component that enables the proactive
identification, analysis, tracking, alerts and resolution of problems over the Internet or
organizational intranets.

Performance tools such as Intel Corp.’s LANDesk Management Suite and Bay
Network’s Optivity and Optivity for Windows NT are also organized around a suite of
components, but unlike the Total Network Visibility Suite, these are entirely software.

Until recently, there’s been a gap between hardware network performance diagnostic
tools and application monitors designed to measure application response times.

Performance tools are designed to help IS staff better manage their network
infrastructures. Applications monitors such as Candle’s ETEWatch are usually drop-in,
easy-to-use visual tools that measure the response time that end users take to use an
application. ETEWatch does this by tracking load times, interruptions, activities and even
interest levels of users on a particular application.

Look for a new class of dual-purpose software designed to integrate performance and
application diagnostics in one package. International Network Services has bundled
components of its Enterprise Pro performance monitor into its newly acquired VitalSuite
applications monitor for an integrated performance and applications diagnostics tool.

NextPoint Network’s NextPoint S3 is a similar full-service performance and
applications program with an especially strong Web orientation.

The hottest diagnostic tools today are service level management (SLM) packages such as
Concord’s Network Health, NextPoint’s NextPoint S3, FirstSense Software
Inc.’s FirstSense Enterprise, Inverse Network Technology Inc.’s IP Insight and
Proactive Networks’ Pronto Watch.

Other vendors are rapidly developing new SLM packages or revamping their old ones; look
for the number of choices to grow quickly this summer.

Service-level management tools keep track of services provided by outside contractors
such as Internet service providers or telephone companies. Through specific bits-and-bytes
measurement, line testing and automatic report generation, an IS manager can determine
whether the IP network provided by a service provider is up to snuff or barely adequate.

Other managers, such as NOAA’s Kyler, use SLM diagnostics tools to monitor
performance of in-house network infrastructures. Via the tools’ high-end performance,
analysis and reporting functions, they can diagnose network problems quickly and fix them
before they harm critical applications.

As with other diagnostic tools, each SLM product is for different subsets of users.
Concord, the leading maker of network performance analysis and reporting tools, has
designed Network Health as a dual-function tool for monitoring both in-house and Internet
service provider services.

A flu shot doesn’t guarantee good health, but it does cut down on sick days. Using
diagnostic tools won’t prevent engineers from crawling through the duct work, but it
will keep your network running healthier.

If you’re searching for the perfect network diagnostics tool, forget it;
you’re looking for a unicorn.

But you can find a good diagnostic tool for your network. A Proactive Networks’
white paper lists seven desirable diagnostic features that might help:

The best software can monitor all network hardware, including routers, switches, hubs
and servers.

It should also be able to monitor critical business application services such as the
Web, e-mail, Domain Name System, Network File System, Telnet, File Transfer Protocol and
any Transmission Control Protocol application.

Users with accounts and passwords on the Web server need to be able to access it from
anywhere on the Internet and see drill-down views of a network device, interface or metric
over the Web.

Once there were dozens of tools for troubleshooting or testing PC hardware—hard
drives, motherboards, memory, hard and floppy disk drives, serial and parallel ports, and
CD-ROM drives. But bigger companies have gobbled up smaller companies—and their
products—leaving a handful of diagnostic suites with some top-notch components that
started life under another name.

There’s no question you need some of these tools, preferably before your PCs
crash, as they eventually will. The price is right for several such tools:

Forefront Direct
Clearwater, Fla.

Troubleshooter 5.5 ($350) is a self-booting disk that bypasses MS-DOS and tests all
major PC hardware directly. It addresses virtually all hardware information, including
memory addresses, input/output port usage, host adapter number and manufacturer, and type
of internal devices.

Micro 2000 Inc.
Glendale, Calif.

Micro-Scope 7.0 ($499) is a computer performance monitor that diagnoses and
troubleshoots hardware, complementary metal-oxide semiconductor settings, interrupt
request (IRQ) and I/O assignments and automatically restores master boot records.

Network Associates Inc.
Santa Clara, Calif.

McAfee Office 1.06 ($99) is a potpourri of utilities and diagnostic tools bought
largely from other companies. It includes the excellent McAfee VirusScan virus fighter and
First Aid 98, a PC-tweaking program originally made by CyberMedia Inc. Nuts & Bolts, a
PC analysis, repair and monitoring tool, is the suite’s heavy-end diagnostics tool.

Pacific CommWare Inc.
Ashland, Ore.

TurboCommander Pro 1.0 ($100) is a suite of diagnostic tools that offer real-time views
of the interaction between a Microsoft Windows PC’s applications and communications

Quarterdeck Corp.
Marina Del Rey, Calif.

TuneUp 3.0 ($40) is an Internet-based PC service product that offers Windows 9x PC
users access to an online care system that provides antivirus protection, hard drive
diagnostics and repair, hardware and software updates, and technical reference

Symantec Corp.
Cupertino, Calif.

Norton SystemWorks 2.0 ($70) bundles an impressive list of PC management and diagnostic
components (Norton Utilities, Norton AntiVirus, CleanSweep, CrashGuard, WebService) into
one cost-effective package. Used together, they contain about a dozen subsets for
analyzing PC hardware and software, optimizing hard drives and maintaining Windows system
files and applications as well as Web downloads.

Touchstone Software Corp.
Huntington Beach, Calif.

CheckIt 98 Diagnostic Suite 1.0 ($130) is a diagnostic tool for Windows PCs. It tests
system drives, motherboards and other components, and it includes CheckIt NetOptimizer for
testing Internet service provider dial-up connections.

Ultra-X Inc.
Santa Clara, Calif.

QuickTech 98 6.0 ($149) is a self-booting diagnostic utility for troubleshooting 386,
486 and Pentium PCs. QuickTech-Pro 6.5 ($399) adds more features, including online help
that can be accessed from almost anywhere within the program.

Unicore Software Inc.
North Andover, Mass.

PC DIAG 1.0 ($150) is self-booting software that does complete PC systems testing and
provides a CMOS and boot disk partition save-and-restore function.

WaterGate Software Inc.
Emeryville, Calif.

PC* Doctor 3.0 ($130) is a diagnostic program that performs 200 system checks,
determines configuration and changes setup parameters, detects use of IRQ and direct
memory access lines, comes with a virus checker, RAM memory tester, automated SCSI and
CD-ROM tester, and stereo speaker tester.

J.B. Miles writes about communications and computers from Carlsbad, Calif.


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