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An efficient and affordable network monitoring solution for SMEs

published on August 28, 2002

The high cost of setting up network monitoring systems prevents most small-to-midsize enterprises (SMEs) from actively monitoring the health of their LANs and WLANs. But a hosted solution that eliminates much of the hardware and staffing overhead commonly associated with network monitoring has proven to be a good fit for at least one TechRepublic member's firm.

NetEQuality Network Baselining, a service from the 15-person, Los Angeles-based company iLAN Systems, Inc., offers affordable and efficient monitoring of network performance, as well as notification service when a client's network appears to have problems. Big-company solutions, many of which are run in-house, typically cost big bucks due to hardware requirements and training dedicated staff to crunch numbers and analyze charts. But NetEQuality costs $1,000 a month and provides automated data-gathering.

A savings in time and money

TechRepublic member Steve Willibrand, a senior network engineer with an investment management firm in Pasadena, CA, has been using NetEQuality for four years and said it has saved his company more than just money; it saves valuable time. If Willibrand needs to demonstrate network health, as he recently did for an auditor, he can quickly turn to reports provided by the service.

Willibrand sought out a monitoring solution while his firm was running AVG Network to overcome some legacy cabling and using HPVG AnyLAN switches to overcome a CAT4 wiring issue. Although everything was running smoothly— there were no latencies, no delays, and no network-related users' complaints— Willibrand couldn't prove it.

"If you can't prove it or put it into a report or on paper, then you really just don't know," he said.

Before Willibrand chose NetEQuality, he initially selected HP OpenView to meet the auditor's demand for network performance data. He even went as far as flying to Mountain View, CA, to get training on the HP product. Following the training, though, Willibrand determined that HP's solution required too much hardware, too many probes, and too much time to crunch the resulting data.

"I realized that this is a lot of work," he said. "I wear a lot of hats. I don't have 16 hours a week to devote to HP OpenView just to do network monitoring. It's a lot of work and a lot of man-hours."

In contrast, NetEQuality required no special equipment purchases, no special training, and a fraction of the setup time.

"I didn't have to do anything but plug it into the network," Willibrand said. He punched a tight hole in the firewall, and iLAN installed a rack-mounted PC clone that powers the product. The same box is rebootable and reconfigurable from the remote iLAN help desk.

A browser-based thin client application lets Willibrand view all the network performance data in an instant. The tool determines baseline performance automatically and offers drill downs on IP, switch, PDC, and domain issue calls.

"I could get an idea of the performance of the network almost immediately," Willibrand said.

Where the data pull comes in

The power behind NetEQuality's ability to grab data quickly lies in two components.

First, the service employs NetVoyant, software created by Texas-based software development and integration firm RedPoint. The tool collects network statistics from all management components of a network and drops them into a database, explained iLAN president Tom Reynolds.

The tool can tell if a server is up and running or running out of memory, and it provides complete monitoring of network components (SNMP, RMON1); servers (SNMP, WinNT); LANS (RMON1); circuits (SNMP); interfaces (ICMP, TCP/IP Socket); and applications (DNS, DHCP, ODBC, SQL, SMTP, Web).

The second NetEQuality component is a 24-hour response and alarm service. To thwart false alarms, first alarms are routed to the iLAN team, which verifies there is trouble on the network. The customer then gets notified via pager or e-mail, depending on how critical the problem may be. The service also provides daily and monthly reports, indicating where there could be a problem.

For Willibrand, not only has the service met a critical need for audit data, but it also has provided strong insight about his network. He now knows that his company has some room to grow; the network has 30 percent utilization on the wire and is currently using less than 10 percent of capacity during the middle of the day.

"It gives you the ability to go in and look, basically makes recommendations about what you might want to do to enhance network performance," he said.

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david southgate
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