Network managers who routinely send front-line technicians on desk-side calls to troubleshoot possible network connectivity issues should consider the just reintroduced Fluke Networks OneTouch AT Network Assistant.
This rugged handheld device is a premium collection of Gigabit copper, optical and 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless interfaces combined with Fluke Networks testing software. My tests showed that the OneTouch AT was able to perform a myriad of basic tests in a matter of minutes with very little technician interaction.
It almost goes without saying that similar no- or low-cost network test applications could be loaded on a laptop to get much of the information provided by the OneTouch AT-with the notable exception of the optical network tests. The chief difference is that the OneTouch AT automates nearly every test action and then automatically displays easy-to-interpret results. With a do-it-yourself (DIY) laptop assembly, technicians must also have expert-level decode experience to interpret test results.
The OneTouch AT, which began shipping June 27, starts at $4,995 for the basic model. In a world where many basic network analysis software tools are either no-cost or very low-cost, Fluke Networks OneTouch AT carries a premium price. It's worth noting that integrated professional tools in this class typically carry a price that reflects ease-of-use and built-in expert analysis.
As tested, with a full complement of optional hardware, including a Fluke Networks directional antenna and fully loaded test network interfaces, my unit cost $9,995. Thus, the OneTouch AT is mainly suited for IT organizations that routinely perform basic network tests and where quick problem solving is essential.
Return of the OneTouch Unit
This is the "second time around" for the OneTouch AT Network Assistant. In 2007 Fluke Networks stopped making the device, then known as the OneTouch Series II. The reminted OneTouch AT fits into the "technician" as opposed to the "network engineer" range of handheld network test devices.
At the high end, Fluke Networks makes the OptiView products that provide highly detailed, drill-down decodes and sophisticated network troubleshooting analysis for network engineers. At the other end of the scale, Fluke Networks makes a variety of pro tools for wireless and wireline testing. The OneTouch AT falls neatly in the middle.
I was able to use the OneTouch AT out of the box to immediately get basic information about my wireline network. Network managers should know that the OneTouch AT can be configured with a number of different tests, such as Ping, TCP connection that can be configured and saved as profiles on the OneTouch AT. This meant that I was able to create a custom set of tests that I was then able to save to a profile. For example, I put together a collection of tests that only used the wireline ports when troubleshooting connections in the data center. I created another profile with wireless tests for use in tracking down my wireless network performance.
These saved profiles, combined with the one-button-to-press operation, make the OneTouch AT deceptively easy to operate. In many cases, I expect frontline technicians will only use the device for a matter of minutes to diagnose network-connectivity problems that would have required up to an hour or more of testing using DIY tools.
I was also able to use the remote-access network port to share control and report viewing with a remote user. In the field, this would likely be used to enable a network engineer to assist a field technician with especially difficult problems without having to wait for the technician to send in file captures and other test results. The OneTouch AT can also be remotely controlled so that the network engineer would be able to modify and then run tests.
The OneTouch AT that I tested was further configured to perform extensive wireless-network testing. I was able to attach the Fluke Networks directional antenna and then start the "locate" feature to hunt down access points. This was one area where using the OneTouch AT didn't seem appreciably better than using a simple location app./administrator/index2.php
In our "noisy" test environment, a typical, 21-story class A office structure with extensive wireless networks from separate companies installed on every floor, it was difficult to accurately locate some of my test access points. As is typical of wireless location applications, the OneTouch AT locator was able to get me close enough that I could visually identify the access point based on clues including network cabling runs.
I was also able to easily perform what Fluke Networks calls a "VeriFi" test. This simple test let me send data from the wireline to the wireless port on the OneTouch AT and then perform the same test in reverse. This enabled me to test for throughput and latency. This test will be especially useful for technicians who need to troubleshoot audio/visual network transmission problems as the tests can reveal loss and jitter while providing an indication about the nature of the problem, for example, in the hand-off of packets from the wireline to the wireless network infrastructure.