Peering Through the IP Network Cloud

Startup Packet Design's first product is aimed at both service providers and enterprises.

A new network management product from startup Packet Design isnt happy just reporting on network problems inside a router or along specific links. It seeks to diagnose a broader sweep of networking woes.

Route Explorer, a network management device launched this week by the Mountain View, Calif., company, works at a higher layer of the network so that network operators and managers can visualize what is happening throughout end-to-end routing paths, or what is often called the IP network "cloud," company officials said.

"As companies are using IP for more and more applications, they have a need to understand better what is going on in the IP networks," Packet Design CEO Judy Estrin said. "Packets come in and go out but theres no way to visualize that."

Router Explorer changes that, she said, because it operates at Layer 3 of the network instead of Layer 2 like most network management tools. The product, which is a 2U network appliance, works by listening to the popular IP network control plane protocols by which routers communicate and selecting the best route for traversing the network.

The first release of Route Explorer, slated for July, will support the OSPF (Open Shortest Oath First) and IS-IS (Intermediate System-to-Intermediate System) protocols. Support for additional protocols, such as BGP (Border Gateway Protocol), is planned for the future, Estrin said.

Route Explorer is in lab trials currently and should be released in beta in June. It will be priced at $25,000.

The appliance is targeted to both service providers and enterprises and can help network operators as well as network engineers because it both provides an online view of the network and historical views, Estrin said. For example, the appliance enables network managers to import data from other tools and relate them to the times that problems occurred in the network. Route Explorer also allows for the manipulation of its database to provide "what-if" scenarios, she said.

"Theres an increased need for network engineers to trace and analyze how the routing is actually working," Estrin said.

The improved visibility into the IP network provides service providers with the kind of knowledge they are familiar with in circuit-switched networks, Estrin said. The fuller picture of the IP network also should help in the deployment of newer applications such as voice over IP.

Estrin, the former chief technology officer at Cisco Systems Inc., helped found Packet Design in May 2000. Router Explorer is the first product launch from Packet Design and is technically being handled by its CNS business unit.

The companys focus has been on researching new networking technologies and then spinning out those inventions into new companies or licensing the technology to for other companies, and that focus will remain, Estrin said. In March 2001, Packet Design spun off Vernier Networks to address wireless LAN security and management.