Review: PathSolutions solves the network monitoring maze

PathSolutions' TotalView provides a path-oriented view into network problems and acts as a superb companion to your traditional network monitoring system

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Apparently what I've been waiting for is PathSolutions' Network Prescription Engine, which correlates SNMP counters from the entire system and funnels the results into plain English suggestions that even junior techs can understand and act upon. For example:

Alignment errors exist on this interface
There may be a Duplex problem on this interface. It appears that this interface is configured for full duplex. Alignment errors were detected with no collisions. There should be only one device connected to the other end of this interface, and that device should also be configured for full duplex. Note: Full duplex connections cannot function properly with a hub. If you need to use a hub, configure this interface for half-duplex. If there is no duplex problem on this interface, there may be a software driver problem. Check to see if all machines can communicate successfully on this segment." [View screen image.]

These Network Prescriptions are a joyous departure from the unreadable technobabble that makes up most device error reports (and keeps my experienced techs running ragged while my junior techs sit around twiddling their thumbs). On top of providing an uncluttered interface that makes it easy to see at a glance where the problems are, TotalView offers plain-English diagnostics that even my junior techs can understand and act upon.

At the same time, the tool gives advanced techs all the device detail and drill-down data they need. And for those times when you really want to analyze the historical data yourself, you can download the SNMP counter data in XML format. That means you can use Excel or a fairly up-to-date version of OpenOffice to run pivot tables on the data to your heart's content.

If you're tired of the avalanche of nightly/weekly/monthly reports that do nothing other than report symptoms, you'll appreciate TotalView's Weather Reports. Most network reports are like episodes in a soap opera: You need to have been paying attention to the previous reports in order to understand the current installment. Weather Reports are more like a movie: They provide a holistic view of what's been going on in the last 24 hours, including any issues that have popped up, the top 10 devices for errors, and the top 10 for utilization.

Slaying network dragons
But you don't always need a Weather Report to know which way the winds are blowing: TotalView pinpoints many common network problems automatically. For example, not all network equipment manufacturers have implemented the auto negotiation portion of the 802.11 Ethernet interface equally, and when the "handshaking" doesn't go perfectly, Ethernet is supposed to drop down to the lowest common denominator. In many cases that's half duplex -- and so TotalView smartly keeps an eye out for half-duplex communications.

I can't tell you how many times I've added switches to a multivendor network only to find them not playing nice with the other switches. In many cases I've had to force interswitch link ports to my desired duplex and speed. Later, during troubleshooting sessions, a tech might start swapping cables, mispatch the switches, and negate the configuration changes I made at initial setup. TotalView's Half Duplex tab highlights these mistakes so that you can quickly eliminate these potential massive bottlenecks.

TotalView Half Duplex
TotalView's Half Duplex tab serves up the low-hanging fruit of network bottlenecks. (Click the image for a closer view.)
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