Competing network-management rivals unfurl faster, smarter wares

Network General and Network Instruments enhance solutions to keep pace with bandwidth-hungry apps like VOIP

Network management rivals Network General and Network Instruments on Monday separately announced significant enhancements to their respective Sniffer and Observer product lines.

Both announcements address the growing acceptance of VoIP in the enterprise. Both also are indicative of the companies' desire to monitor application performance closely to ensure adherence with internal and external SLAs. Finally, the announcements demonstrate a move toward storing large quantities of network data for both real-time and historical performance analysis.

Network General Lays Out New Sniffer Architecture
Network General, formerly Network Associates, unfurled a handful of product releases, part of its new modular Sniffer Enterprise Solution Architecture, comprising various software solutions and appliances for networking monitoring and analysis.

Among components of the architecture is Sniffer Enterprise Visualizer 4.0, the company's Web-based networking monitoring, analysis and reporting tool. Version 4.0 is designed to track internal SLAs through network and application baselines, provide accurate capacity planning through trend reports and provide detailed internal cost allocation and tracking.

"Our customers tell us that today, merely keeping the network and applications up and running is no longer sufficient," said Aswini Chowdoppa, product manager at Network General. "The IT infrastructure must operate at peak performance, and the IT department must function cost-effectively as a business unit. Today, IT department performance is being assessed through adherence to internal and external SLAs. Not meeting these performance objectives can result in business disruption and financial losses."

Additionally, Network General introduced Sniffer MultiSegment Intelligence 4.0, designed to identify performance problems found in multitiered Web-based applications. Collecting data from Sniffer instruments, the solution discovers and analyzes application flows and provides reports based on captured traffic to help administrators resolve application performance issues.

Network General also announced Sniffer Enterprise Administrator 4.0, designed to enhance centralized management, administration, and security of Sniffer resources. With Enterprise Administrator 4.0, administrators can configure hundreds of options on a single Sniffer agent, and then clone them across other agents through the network. It also provides a single console view across multiple Sniffer appliances, enabling single sign-on and administration from one console.

Finally, Network General upgraded its InfiniStream  network analysis product to Version 2.5, which provides continuous line-rate stream-to-disk capture of up to 4TB of network data. Combined with Sniffer Decodes and Expert Analysis, InfiniStream provides Retrospective Analysis, historical and real-time analysis of recorded network traffic, including VoIP traffic.

"Analyzing terabytes of data to pinpoint performance issues is like trying to find a needle in a haystack," said Rich van de Groenekan, product-line manager at Network General. "The new solution makes it easy to look back in time to examine volumes of data to observe trends, isolate anomalies, perform deep packet analysis, generate summary reports, and ultimately quickly find the root cause."

Pricing for the Sniffer Enterprise Solution Architecture starts around $3,000 and can go as high as several hundred thousands of dollars, depending on the configuration.

Network Instruments Dials In to VoIP With Observer
Network Instruments unveiled Version 11 of Observer, the company's flagship network analysis solution. Among improvements, the company has injected enhanced VoIP support throughout Observer line with VoIP Expert, designed to provide in-depth diagnostics of VoIP performance. For example, administrators can assess call metrics such as call status, current jitter, duration, and more on an individual phone calls. The solution also can record phone calls to be replayed later.

Additionally, Observer 11 is available as a native Windows 64-bit application, and the company's gigabit and WAN appliances are 64-bit systems.

"The 64-bit platform greatly improves analysis performance," said Douglas Smith, president and co-founder of Network Instruments. "64-bit doesn't just double the speed; it improves it up to eight-fold. As analysis vendors prepare to manage EtherChannel and then 10-gig down the road, our gigabit capture technology, combined with 64-bit Windows, ensures our customers can easily keep up. For us, 64-bit is about maximizing our systems to provide the fastest, most accurate, most efficient analysis possible."

Observer 11 also offers MultiHop Analysis, which tracks up to 10 conversation or transaction hops across a network, a feature for pinpointing bottlenecks, identifying packet loss, and verifying SLAs.

Network Instruments also has announced enhancements to GigaStor, the company's high-capacity storage device designed to capture massive amounts of data -- up to 8TB -- at wire speed. One such enhancement is time-based navigation, which enables administrators to view network performance down to the nanosecond to pinpoint problems. According to Network Instruments, the appliance itself performs data processing and analysis, which means it doesn't need to transfer large quantities of data across the network to the main Observer console for processing.

"It's a new paradigm in network troubleshooting. Unlike competing vendors, the GigaStor has the capability to perform all data processing and analysis locally on the appliance. This eliminates having to transfer large amounts of data across the network for analysis," said Smith. "For example, with other products, it could take days to transfer and analyze only 1 percent of a 4TB capture. With the GigaStor only screen updates are transferred, so analyzing data just takes seconds."

Pricing starts at $995 for Observer, $2,895 for Expert Observer, and $3,995 for Observer Suite. The GigaStor Appliance begins at $35,000 for a 4TB configuration.

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