Dirty Dancing with AppDancer

AppDancer is a sniffer and network analyzer rolled into one, but it is much more. Beth Cohen explains why this product should be part of your network-analysis arsenal.

By Beth Cohen | Posted Jan 7, 2003
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It is panic time. You have another network problem, and you don't care what caused the problem -- you just want it fixed. How can you determine what to fix? Is it the network or an application-specific issue?

AppDancer/FA can rescue you with a powerful toolset that analyzes the packets on your network to show your network topography, network health and load status not only by protocol and device but also by application. It even drills down to the individual session if you need that detailed information to identify application bottlenecks or security breaches.

You do know something about computer networks -- after all, you are the company network manager -- but it can take years to become an expert network analyst. You want a tool that is easy to configure and is comprehensive, and that you can learn to use in your copious spare time. AppDancer/FA 2.0, a new network monitoring and analysis tool from AppDancer Networks, may be just the application that solves your network analysis and monitoring problems. Catching hackers and office network abusers was never so easy.

Basically, AppDancer is a sniffer and network analyzer rolled into one, but it is much more. The company has taken a radically new approach to IT network and infrastructure analysis. Previously no tool allowed analysis of network and application interactions. The standard protocols -- SMTP, DNS, FTP, etc. -- are supported as well as some new ones, SQL, Oracle transactions, VoIP protocols (including H.332) and SIP in one user-friendly package.

Simple Setup
Initial installation and configuration is a snap. I downloaded the demo version from the website in about 10 minutes: it is a 40-megabyte file, so make sure that you have a fast Internet connection before you do it. (The company will send you a CD-ROM version if you don't have a large enough Internet pipe.) One word of warning: follow the company's recommended system configuration guidelines. This puppy is fully loaded, so it uses up lots of memory. The process was using 54MB of memory on my machine just idling. Tim O'Neill, director of sales, confirmed that people attempting to load it on machines that do not meet the minimum specifications might have trouble. Fortunately, it hummed along splendidly on my 1-GHz, 512MB Pentium III laptop capturing information in the background as I was doing my regular daily work.

Intuitive Interface
After opening the application, you'll see a menu across the top of the interface that includes buttons for Home, Health, Application monitoring, Device monitoring, Analysis, Configuration, and History that immediately orients you. Everything is customizable, but the interface out of the box is elegant and intuitive. You have a choice of a Web or Windows interface, but they are identical in functionality and only differ slightly in look and feel.

Each screen has a frame on the left side that lists the available reports. The standard report format is a graphic chart showing utilization with a more detailed spreadsheet style report below. To view more details click on elements in the chart. The interface layout is comfortable and completely configurable.

I have used network monitoring and analysis software for years, and all the venders tell you that you can use the application out of the box. With AppDancer, that is finally true. I was able to use the application and get meaningful information about the network and application traffic on my admittedly small network in about 10 minutes without resorting to the manual.

In addition, I found out some interesting things about some of the sites that I commonly visit. I now know who is using Akamai for Web-page distribution. I was able to look at multiple views of the data and see my e-mail sessions quickly and easily.

Next page: Session Tracking and Analysis

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