Concord's flexible Network Health takes the pulse of a WAN

Concord's flexible Network Health takes the pulse of a WAN

Concord Communications' Network Health was able to interpret every management information base it was asked to examine. The software starts at $10,000.

By Barry Nance

Special to GCN

Customizable, flexible and useful reports are Network Health's strong suit.

The software product from Concord Communications Inc. quietly and accurately collected network statistics from my test WAN, then gave me several ways to present and relate the statistics.

In particular, the Network Health frame relay module analyzed each WAN circuit for traffic congestion and packet discards.

Depending on the variety and complexity of equipment on your network, Network Health may take a long time to categorize, name and describe all the WAN-linked network nodes and end points you want to monitor. Network Health eases the process by letting you sort network elements by class or IP address grouping for easy discovery.

Network Health gathered WAN performance and utilization information by using Simple Network Management Protocol to poll routers, smart hubs, switches and installed remote-monitoring agents. As it familiarized itself with the network, I liked that the unobtrusive polling process used the network bandwidth frugally.

The product let me configure the polling rate'fast, medium or slow'for each network element.

Double pack

Typically, only two packets cross the wire for each network node during a poll'the SNMP request from Network Health and the response packet from the agent. The two packets totaled only about 250 bytes.

Network Health inserted the results into the included CA-OpenIngres database, which its reporting components queried to supply WAN management data.

The reporting module is a Web server that emits performance and utilization reports in the form of Hypertext Markup Language statements, viewable by any frames-capable Web browser.

Get a grip
'Get a tool that network administrators can understand and easily use'put them through a training course, if necessary. Otherwise the tool will fall into disuse.
'Make sure the tool supports your physical network'Ethernet, token-ring'protocols and applications.
'Save money by asking if your networking hardware vendor bundles one of these tools with its products. Such alliances between hardware and software vendors are becoming more common. For instance, AT&T Paradyne Corp. of Largo, Fla., bundles Netscout Manager Plus with its FrameSaver SLV CSU/DSU networking components.
'Use the tools proactively and continuously to stay on top of your network's good health and behavior. Don't expect to solve problems by running the tool only at times when problems occur.
'Consider two products if you have a large, complex network'one that works at the protocol decode level, such as Network Associates Inc.'s Sniffer, and one at the application level, such as Candle Corp.'s Command Center.

When used in the presence of routers from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., the software was able to intercept and interpret Cisco Packet Internet Groper Management Information Bases (MIB). This feature let me measure network latency from the router to other network devices. I used it to monitor network performance across multiple-hop WAN links, one-hop backbones, and remote-site-to-application-server connections.

Healthy interpretation

Network Health was able to understand and interpret every vendor's MIB it was asked to examine. Its At-a-Glance reports gave an overview of the WAN links using thumbnail graphs, and clicking on each graph let us drill down for more detail.

More useful reports on trends and exceptions were available after I had run Network Health over time to generate baseline data. The reports made comparisons between current data and the accumulated baseline. For consistency's sake, each report used baseline data for the same time and day of week, for the same class of devices.

The trends became realistic and meaningful after running Network Health for about a week. After its first poll of the network, I told Network Health the speeds of the frame relay devices, including the committed information rate and burst rates. Thereafter, monitoring for healthy WAN behavior was just a matter of scheduling the reports I wanted to see.

Concord Communications' Service Level reports combined and presented daily and long-term reports for various user levels, ranging from an information technology manager to an executive.

Each report provided general and specific information about the links between WAN sites.


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