Network General Branches Out

Company automates troubleshooting.

Network General, in conjunction with its 20th anniversary, revamped its products and architecture at Interop on Sept. 18 in a broad update to its Sniffer platform.

The company, with its new Network Intelligence Suite and Network Intelligence Architecture, hopes to move out of the trenches as a tool supplier for network engineers to offer a broader line to technology executives.

"Performance data remains fragmented across the different departmental silos in IT. I was in a meeting where I saw different directors—the applications, network operations and infrastructure guys—all get on the phone to talk about what they could see. Visibility is still nonexistent," said Rick Fitz, vice president of product management at Network General, in San Jose, Calif.

Network Intelligence Suite combines Network Generals Visualizer dashboard and reporting software with the NetVigil integrated performance, fault and business service monitoring technology the company acquired earlier in 2006 with Fidelia.

The integration of the two allows network data to be correlated with infrastructure groups. For example, if a router notifies a technician of a threshold violation, such as CPU utilization at 100 percent, the combination allows the technician to "drill down to see if it happened before, then look at the [traffic flow] going over the router to see what applications are traversing the router," said Fitz. For instance, if the network administrator spots Oracle traffic gobbling up 80 percent of bandwidth, he or she can find the client/server pair behind the spike, Fitz added.

At least one longtime Sniffer user was encouraged by the potential labor savings from the new offerings. "In the lean environment were in, any type of automation in troubleshooting and reporting is imperative and invaluable," said John Vogt-Nilsen, director of information services at Orbital Sciences, in Chandler, Ariz.

Although the proof of the suites value will be in actual deployments, Network General appears to be making a good move, said industry analyst Dennis Drogseth of Enterprise Management Associates, in Portsmouth, N.H. "The flow-based and packet insight is becoming more, not less, relevant," Drogseth said.

The suite leverages the NetVigil technology, which stores the components that make up a business service and provides the foundation for more focused Business Forensics applications. The first to debut is the VOIP Forensics offering, which provides real-time monitoring of VOIP (voice over IP) performance, reporting on performance metrics and alarms. It leverages Sniffer Voice Expert and decodes to provide troubleshooting of VOIP problems.

"With this offering, we will provide the truth about VOIP through preconfigured [MIBs, or Management Information Bases] focused on [Cisco Systems] CallManager and IP SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and do reporting for trends. You can drill into instrumentation to get information on whats flowing over those devices," Fitz said.

VOIP Forensics is the first of several planned preconfigured applications to be delivered through the NetVigil Business Container technology. Others planned include Application Performance Forensics, Virtualized Environment Forensics, Service Level Reporting Forensics and Troubleshooting Forensics.

Beyond its near-term products, launched Sept. 22, Network General also intends to open its technology architecture to provide customers, partners and third-party developers with access to the IT metrics it gathers, classifies, indexes and aggregates, the company said.

As a part of its NetworkDNA architecture, Network General will release its PMDB (performance management database), which officials characterized as a single source of truth about the network.

"Its a repository of key performance metrics that we will expose to the outside world so customers or ISVs or partners can use it to build applications," Fitz said.

The database, which Network General will deliver over the next 12 months, will also provide performance-oriented data that can be referenced by a configuration management database. Rather than be a database of raw instrumentation data, the PMDB will act as a "metadata store of contextual information about the health of a given [set of] business services," Fitz said. "We believe it can be referenced and used to create new value in IT."

It will gather instrumentation data from a range of sources, including third-party probes, Network General probes, NetFlow data from network switches and sFlow data from routers. That data will be classified, aggregated, indexed and stored.