Tool Manages Traffic Volume on High-Demand Servers

 
 
By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2002-08-05
 
 
 

Tool Manages Traffic Volume on High-Demand Servers


FalconStor Software Inc.s NIC Express 4.0 Professional Edition is a handy tool for getting the most performance out of high-traffic servers that are limited by network bandwidth. During eWeek Labs tests, we significantly improved access to test servers by teaming several server NICs with NIC Express 4.0, which enabled us to economically use multiple lines to a switched 100M-bps network.

IT managers who are not yet ready to install Gigabit-over-copper switches but need more network capacity between servers and high-demand users should consider NIC Express 4.0 Professional Edition, which started shipping this month at $695 per server.

This latest version of NIC Express, which was produced by IP Metrics Software Inc. until the company was purchased by FalconStor last month, has new customization, monitoring and deployment capabilities that made it a powerful, easy-to-deploy addition to our arsenal of economical performance improvement tools.

The biggest competitors to NIC Express 4.0 are the NIC vendors themselves. Although NIC makers often include load balancing tools for free, we believe NIC Express 4.0 is worth adding to the mix because it adds a wide range of performance measurement tools, and the professional version added a Web-based monitoring tool that let us track server traffic performance from a nearly unlimited number of systems running NIC Express 4.0 anywhere in the network (see screen).

We conducted a wide variety of tests using NetIQ Corp.s Chariot software to provide the load on a Dell Computer Corp. four-processor PowerEdge 6300 server with dual Intel Corp. Gigabit Ethernet server NICs. Even though we were using Gigabit Ethernet server NICs, our Cisco Systems Inc. 3550T switches were configured for 10/100M-bps traffic so that the testbed would resemble a typical corporate LAN that hadnt been upgraded for Gigabit Ethernet traffic.

Improved in NIC Express 4.0 is a stateful fault-tolerance tool that let us make very detailed customizations to accommodate our network. During tests, we varied the failover and alternative routing settings that gave us a fine degree of control over how traffic was rerouted when NIC Express 4.0 determined that a card had failed.

The product now includes an enterprise monitoring console that we used to easily look at performance statistics on all the machines that had the NIC Express 4.0 software. This console is a big improvement over the previous versions of NIC Express 4.0 because it let us get a birds-eye view of server traffic and potential network problems.

We used NIC Express 4.0 in conjunction with our network management system, Hewlett-Packard Co.s OpenView Network Node Manager, to spot switches that we brought down to simulate network problems.

Once we had NIC Express 4.0 set up, the only thing that seemed lacking was a central management console that would let us take the next step—from monitoring to management. Even after using the product for just a few days, we saw a real need to be able to make changes from a central location to the failover and load balancing features provided by NIC Express 4.0.

As it was, we made changes by going from machine to machine with new parameters. (Competitors also require changes to be made this way.)

Here Comes Trouble


Here Comes Trouble

During tests, we simulated problems in the network in a number of places. The easy part was pulling the plug on the switch and watching the traffic fail over to the other NIC that was connected to the second switch. We also took a chance with our network cards and unseated one while the server was running and carrying load. NIC Express 4.0 worked as advertised, immediately transferring network traffic from the failed card as soon as it detected a problem.

It should be noted that the Intel NICs, once reseated in the server (we did a power down before putting them back), worked fine, even after being subjected to this abuse.

The configuration tool made it easy for us to set up rules for traffic handling in the case of a NIC or network failure, and we found a couple of other features in NIC Express 4.0 that, although not new, are worthy of special attention. The monitor panel for our servers used colored icons to show the state of each of our NICs based on current and past behavior. We have been stymied more than once by NICs that died intermittently and caused more than a little heartache on the way. NIC Express 4.0 easily flagged problem hardware for us to put on the pull-and-replace list.

NIC Express 4.0 comes with agents prepackaged for easy deployment with distribution tools, including Microsoft Corp.s Systems Management Server and Marimba Inc.s namesake product. Since we had just finished a Marimba test, we used the product to distribute NIC Express 4.0 to Windows 2000 servers in our test network. (For eWeek Labs July 22 review of Marimba Migration Module, go to www.eweek.com/links.)

After a little coaxing, we got NIC Express 4.0 installed on several servers in our testbed.

Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant can be contacted at cameron_sturdevant@ziffdavis.com.

Executive Summary


: NIC Express 4.0 Professional Edition">

Executive Summary: NIC Express 4.0 Professional Edition

Usability Excellent
Capability Good
Performance Excellent
Interoperability Good
Manageability Good
Scalability Good
Security Good

FalconStors NIC Express 4.0 Professional Edition software can harness multiple NICs to enable advanced failover and load balancing, improving server performance by increasing the amount and reliability of network bandwidth.

COST ANALYSIS

At $695 per server, NIC Express 4.0 provides an affordable reliability and capacity improvement that gives managers good monitoring features and likely wont require much ongoing staff time to maintain.

(+) Advanced fault tolerance and load balancing capabilities; good remote monitoring tools; easy to distribute.

(-) Could use more central management configuration tools to make field adjustments less time-consuming.

EVALUATION SHORT LIST

  • Intels Pro 10/100/1000S Server Adapter with Advanced Network Services
  • 3Com Corp.s EtherLink cards with DynamicAccess
  • www.falconstor.com

  • Rocket Fuel