Front-Line Support

Link analyst ably tracks small nets but not all devices.

Network Instruments LLCs low-cost Link Analyst 3.0 doesnt set new network tracking standards, but it includes useful new features such as a Web interface and support for XML data export.

Link Analyst is almost evenly matched with rival WhatsUp Gold from Ipswitch Inc., although in eWeek Labs tests, Link Analyst was not as accurate as WhatsUp Gold at identifying devices such as Cisco Systems Inc. routers. The main distinguishing characteristic is the price: Link Analyst costs $495, while WhatsUp Gold is priced at $795.

Whats likely to be most interesting to IT managers is how advanced Link Analyst has become, especially compared with products such as Hewlett-Packard Co.s OpenView Network Node Manager. In tests, Link Analyst, which started shipping in March, matched NNMs ability to keep tabs on the availability of a modestly sized network.

The important distinction is that NNM is an n-tier product capable of using a "manager of managers" to watch over enterprise-class networks. Link Analyst will be most useful as a front-line monitoring tool for branch-office or field technicians.

Link Analyst was simple to install and relatively easy to set up on a Windows 2000 server. The product also runs on Windows 9x and Windows NT. We used Link Analyst to discover the test network based on a ping sweep of our IP address range. The product produced a map that showed all the IP devices in the network but incorrectly identified a Cisco 2500 router as a generic PC. Although it was a simple matter to manually correct the problem, WhatsUp Gold correctly discovered the device.

Besides a map of the network, we also got the standard lists of network error messages when devices went down. The reworked interface made it easy to see these problems and to zero in on the devices that caused them.

Rediscovery made difficult

Link analyst doesnt automatically rediscover the network. This meant that after adding new equipment to the network, we had to manually start the discovery process to add that equipment to the Link Analyst map. This also means that network discovery, which can be a bandwidth-intensive process, will likely be done during business hours because an IT staff member must initiate the procedure.

However, in the name of making Link Analyst easier to use, Network Instruments has added a secure, Web-based management interface and new paging features that most managers will likely find quite handy. We could easily view network maps and fault notifications from any machine equipped with a browser. The new paging features meant that, after a couple of tries, we were able to have Link Analyst page us from different phone numbers based on the time of day.

Also new in Link Analyst 3.0 is the ability to export performance data formatted in XML (Extensible Markup Language). Although there arent many other products that use this format, it will likely be important in the near future. Most managers will find the comma-delimited format the easiest way to export network performance data that is collected by the product.

Once installed, Link Analyst made it easy for us to view a collection of icons that represented network devices. We easily configured the product to poll devices at regular intervals.

Although Link Analyst, like its rivals, doesnt integrate with sophisticated fault-management software such as System Management Arts Inc.s InCharge, the product will still be useful to front-line staff who must react quickly to local network problems. In tests, we found it fairly easy to pinpoint failed devices such as a branch router, even when Link Analyst reported that a fleet of servers and workstations behind the router were unavailable.