This device lets you peek into your network's future

Box Score: A









Every network administrator needs a crystal ball.   Most practitioners
of the black art of network management rely on software tools such as Hewlett-Packard
Co.’s OpenView or IBM Corp.’s Tivoli/TME. The GCN Lab took a peek at a hardware
crystal ball, the Kinnetics Network Manager from Loran Technologies Inc.


Several features set Kinnetics apart from anything else on the market. It is
hardware-based in a previously all-software market. It uses Linux as its core operating
system. And its management console is open to any Java-enabled browser on any platform.


Kinnetics needs no special software on the client side. In various versions, it can
monitor small LANs all the way up to 6,000-device networks with 37,500 ports. It plugs
into the network via a 10Base-T card and provides dial-in access through an internal
33.6-Kbps modem.


Hooking up the Kinnetics Network Manager was easy. I attached it to a 10Base-T hub, set
system parameters, and sat back and waited.


Depending on the network size and types of devices, the initial discovery can take a
few hours or much longer. Generally speaking, having more devices means a longer discovery
phase, but the more managed devices there are, the faster Kinnetics catalogs them.


To see how it was coming along, I logged on through Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.01.
Kinnetics also works with Netscape Navigator 4.04 or higher versions of the browser. When
I typed the IP address in the uniform resource locator field, a log-in dialog box
appeared. 


More than one user can log in at once. Two could access the network map console on the
500-device version the lab tested, one of them being the administrator. Versions aimed at
larger networks can open more management consoles.


Once I logged in, the Kinnetics Toolbar window and network Health Panel opened. The
Health Panel shows at a glance any problems or changes on the network. Clicking on the
report icon next to any of the monitored items brings up a list of alarms and
warnings.   For example, if I noticed a break in service from a router, I could
click on the router’s IP address to go to its management screen for more information.


The Kinnetics Toolbar provides a central point of access for all administration chores,
and the best part is the Network Map window. It lays out the physical network according to
your preferences.


For example, you could look at every device with a media access control or IP address
and see the connections between them. Every device has an icon determined by its
management information. You can customize the icon to represent the device better or to
identify an unmanaged device.


Whether network management is hardware- or software-based, the more Simple Network
Management Protocol-capable devices are present, the better the management. Kinnetics
follows the SNMP standard, which means some proprietary vendor-specific SNMP data might
not be available.


Kinnetics pointed out some weak points in the lab’s existing SNMP setup. I
upgraded the firmware on hubs and routers and upgraded software on desktop and server PCs.
In the process, I noticed that Microsoft Windows NT’s SNMP service worked on some
machines, but Microsoft’s Service Pack 4 had to be installed for full SNMP support.


Once the upgrades were in place and Loran had helped tweak some of our more unusual
devices—a service the company provides—Kinnetics accurately displayed the
lab’s network infrastructure.


Some devices, however, are just not SNMP-manageable. Kinnetics assigned a device cloud
to unmanaged hubs, for example. It could see that network traffic from many sources was
going through them, but it couldn’t see the devices. Line breaks were still
detectable, but there was no information about bandwidth usage. You can assign an icon to
such devices to better represent the actual makeup.


The lab found another problem with ma-chines running Windows 9x. The Novell NetWare
client for Win9x provides SNMP information, but a computer running 9x without the client
does not support SNMP. That meant I could see information about such a PC’s network
interface card but no other machine-specific information.


Kinnetics displays the network map in a number of ways. You can change the style of
connections, tweak the layout and group devices. After such a group exists, you simply
drag and drop other device icons into it.


Behind each icon appears a wealth of information. Double-click on any icon on the map
to bring up the Kinnetics Device Manager. The window gives basic SNMP information in an
easy-to-read format. A toolbar at the top shows even more information about specific
ports, device diagnostics, and volume of traffic in and out of a device or port.


The Device Manager also shows year 2000-readiness information for the devices in its
database. All the windows are rich with hyperlinks.


For instance, when looking at my Hewlett-Packard Co. switch, I could hyperlink to the
Web site for the switch’s product family, the Web site for our particular model and
HP’s home page.


Any time a Kinnetics window mentions another device on the network, it makes a
hyperlink to take you to that device’s management window. So you could start off
looking at a router, view the switch to which it connects, then see a hub and an
individual PC, all without having to go to the main map or any other window.


So Kinnetics is a robust manager, but how well does it handle reporting? The answer:
very well.


In the Toolbar window that first loads after you log in, you see an Event Manager, a
find-device utility, and reports about the network and how to administer Kinnetics.


Once again, hyperlinks can take you to the device manager for any device listed. The
Event Manager lists each alarm or warning with information about type of event, priority
and status of the affected device, plus its IP and MAC addresses.


The networkwide reports are no less detailed. You have a complete inventory report, a
2000 readiness report and a list of devices with possible problems. You also get a list of
the top traffic generators and receivers.


Kinnetics backs up data on an Imation Corp. LS-120 SuperDrive, which stores 120M per
diskette. In addition, a removable hard drive comes in a range of sizes.


Although the Linux operating system might daunt some administrators, you never have to
interface with the OS. A Loran official said Linux was chosen for top performance and
reliability.


Can the Kinnetics Network Manager replace software network management tools? It
certainly could at a great many offices. It’s easy to use and requires no other
dedicated hardware or proprietary software. On top of that, you can administer it from any
Java browser.


All network management should be so easy.
             


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