Can Networks Shoulder New Loads?

Network monitoring tools can assess readiness for bandwidth-intensive apps.

Network infrastructure tools have evolved into keen-eyed monitoring and management systems that can help IT managers answer tough questions about network readiness and performance. eWEEK Labs reviewed the latest versions of three venerable monitoring systems to see how their core features can help predict networks ability to support new applications.

As organizations evaluate bandwidth-sensitive applications including VOIP (voice over IP), POE (power over Ethernet) and wireless networking, questions are arising about the suitability of existing network installations to handle the load.

eWEEK Labs evaluated the latest editions of three tried-and-true network management tools to get a better understanding of how they can help IT managers assess the readiness of networks to accommodate these new applications, in addition to tracking daily operations. We reviewed BMC Software Inc.s Patrol Visualis 1.4, Concord Communications Inc.s eHealth Suite 5.6 and Hewlett-Packard Co.s OpenView Network Node Manager Advanced Edition 7.01.

BMCs Patrol Visualis 1.4 leverages the companys broad range of tools and agent software to gather performance information. Concords eHealth Suite 5.6 is a classic network device poller that uses extensive reports to root out information about the state of the network. HPs Network Node Manager 7.01—also a device poller but one that integrates third-party tools—is nearly ubiquitous in network operation centers.

We chose to test these three systems because they each approach the problem from a different angle. Also competing in this market is Computer Associates International Inc.s Unicenter platform, which eWEEK plans to review in a forthcoming issue.

Our tests show that none of the products has changed significantly in the last several years, although all of them—through add-ons and new product modules—have been kept up-to-date.

It turns out that the granddaddy of network management, HPs Network Node Manager, has aged the best of the products we looked at. And although all the products we tested provide myriad plug-ins, dashboards and third-party integrations, HPs Network Node Manager 7.01 has the broadest coverage.

BMCs Patrol Visualis 1.4 has some neat tricks, including effective use of Cisco Systems Inc.s NetFlow traffic accounting and usage information, which is part of the Cisco IOS (Internetwork Operating System) software on network devices. (Patrol Visualis is able to tap into NetFlow when NetFlow is enabled on Cisco routers and switches.)

Concords eHealth Suite 5.6 provided the best trend information and overall network usage assessment of the bunch. eHealth is basically an "über-poller" and reporting suite. During tests, it provided the most useful information of the three products for making long-term capacity-planning decisions. However, eHealth was also the most challenging to set up, and its reports were difficult to configure.

All the products we tested are actually several modules rolled together into a single management console. Because of this smorgasbord approach, pricing for these products is a slithery proposition, depending on the number of monitored devices and the variety of protocols that need to be tracked.

BMCs Patrol Visualis 1.4 starts at $25,000. According to company officials, a typical installation costs about $45,000. Concord officials provided a ballpark figure of $100,000 for a typical eHealth Suite 5.6 installation. A bare-bones deployment of HPs Network Node Manager Advanced Edition 7.01, for monitoring 250 devices, is $11,000, according to HP officials. Users of the HP system will likely add monitoring capabilities that will boost this cost into a price range comparable to that of the other two products.

VOIP is rapidly picking up steam in the enterprise, and we predict that IT managers are going to see a lot more POE-enabled devices in the next few years. This is in part because the POE 802.3af specification was ratified this year. And, just as important, VOIP and wireless networks are poised to take advantage of POE to improve network reliability and reduce deployment costs.

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Based on tests using PowerDsine Ltd.s 6012 midspan power injectors and an HP ProCurve 2626 POE switch, it is clear that IT managers are going to have to rely on SNMP to fully monitor POE devices.

Although it makes sense that POE will be monitored via SNMP, we urge the vendors of the products we review here and other network management vendors to quickly add the extended MIB (Management Information Base) support that it will take to fully monitor these powered devices.

Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at

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