Shunra unleashes an enterprise testing Storm
Storm STX-100 box profiles your app performance under variable network conditions
Back in the days when analog modems were the kings of telecom, network techs would use “line simulators” to evaluate connection performance under variable conditions. The idea was that, by reproducing all the worst-case scenarios in the lab first, you could better predict application and connection behavior in the real world.
Those kludged devices of yore would no doubt recognize some of their own spirit in the Shunra Software’s Shunra\Storm STX-100 appliance. A virtual enterprise-in-a-box, the Storm STX-100 is the ultimate line simulator for today’s heterogeneous network environments. It allows IT professionals to emulate a variety of network topologies spanning LAN, WAN, and Internet connectivity.
Shunra’s recipe for success? Start with a non-descript, rack-mounted box; add some of the most sophisticated network simulation logic this grizzled author has ever encountered; and round it out with a drag-and-drop UI that makes diagramming complex global networks mere child’s play.
The client-hosted StormConsole software ships with the unit and is based on Microsoft’s Visio drawing framework. It includes a variety of pre-configured network elements representing common infrastructure components. To add a WAN connection to your simulation, simply drag the cloud element from the template and drop it onto your network diagram. Want to tune a particular diagram element? Double-click and a configuration dialog pops up.
When you’re ready to implement your scenario, simply click a Visio macro button and the Storm STX-100 transforms itself into a virtual representation of the topology you just diagrammed. Though physically only inches apart, each system will “see” a network environment that spans the full range of “hops” as defined in your simulation package. Throughput, latency, packet loss -- each specific characteristic is reproduced in exacting detail.
The STX-100 unit I tested came configured with four 100Mbps Ethernet ports (other available modules include Gigabit Ethernet over both copper and fiber). Set-up was a snap: I simply plugged in the Storm unit, connected a client workstation to the management port, and configured a temporary IP address. Basic device control functions, like adjusting the speed and transmission mode (half vs. full-duplex) of the test ports, are handled through a simple, browser-based interface, and the emulation scenarios are controlled directly through the aforementioned Visio diagramming environment.
Several software add-ons expand the Storm STX-100’s capabilities. These include StormCast for simulating multicast traffic; StormTraffic for integrating with various third-party client simulation end points (such as Mercury Interactive’s LoadRunner); and the powerful StormCatcher tool that records LAN/WAN behavior from your live production environment and replays it in a simulation scenario.
Ironically, one of the Storm STX-100’s greatest strengths -- the companion StormConsole diagramming tool -- is also its biggest weakness. StormConsole’s reliance on Visio means that you’re forced to interact with the device from a Windows PC. That’s not the most politically correct posture, given the rise of Linux and the maturation of Java as a UI provider.
Although you can maintain the STX-100 through alternative means (various scripting and/or XML interfaces), the process is far less intuitive than StormConsole’s highly-visual, drag-and-drop model. My advice to Shunra: Grab a big cup of Java and think about all those Unix/Linux technicians who are still running the show at most enterprise datacenters.
The other big barrier is price. At $40,000, the Storm STX-100 represents a major investment for all but the largest IT shops. The company does offer a software-only solution, Shunra\Cloud, which runs on a standard PC with two NICs and can emulate a single network connection (a gateway or similar). Pricing for this fixed-function solution starts at $5000, allowing you to sample Shunra’s technology without a Lexus-sized allocation.
Other than these concerns, it’s hard to find fault with the Shunra\Storm STX-100. It does what few other hardware or software solutions can: Simulate the myriad complex interactions of a real-world production network and faithfully reproduce them as part of a well-integrated testing platform, all while remaining remarkably easy to use and deploy. If you absolutely need a best-of-breed network emulator and price is no object, look no further than the Storm STX-100.