CrossNodes Product Briefing: Protocol Analyzers

Network traffic volume will increase as network technologies improve and capabilities expand. Business demands on IT are rapidly becoming the thrust of the customer economy, and the broader bandwidths and faster Ethernet speeds demand network management and analysis products. Therefore, the network managers arsenal of network troubleshooting tools will need to grow in the coming years, and protocol analyzers are an essential component of your toolkit. CrossNodes Product Briefings provide an overview of what you need to know before purchasing a specific technology, and include round-up listings of current products from each of the major vendors.

By Dayna Delmonico | Posted Aug 7, 2001
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The demand for bandwidth and throughput is endless, and downtime is NEVER an option.

Network managers know network traffic volume will increase as network technologies improve and capabilities expand. Business demands on IT are rapidly becoming the thrust of the customer economy, and the broader bandwidths and faster Ethernet speeds demand network management and analysis products. Therefore, the network managers arsenal of network troubleshooting tools will need to grow in the coming years.

In general, two categories of network test instruments exist. Physical Layer analyzer instruments concentrate on problems at Layer 1 of the OSI model -- the physical layer. These products include such devices as:

  • Cable testers
  • Multimeters
  • Oscilloscopes
  • OTDRs
  • Signal meters
  • Spectrum analyzers

At the higher end, protocol analyzers test Layers 2 through 7 of the OSI model -- or the data link, network, transport, session, presentation and application layers. These products obviously analyze protocol packets, and most can present data traffic statistics, identify and record defective packets, and help locate the source of errors. Though combinations of both types of instruments are best for network troubleshooting, this Product Briefing focuses on protocol analyzers.

Software and hardware-based analyzers are available at a broad range of prices. Software-based protocol analyzers range from shareware utilities to complex programs that implement expert systems. These are designed, according to vendors, for traditional network topologies. Hardware-based protocol analyzers offer more power than software-based analyzers, but they also cost more. Still, their precision outweighs the cost in a complicated Enterprise environment. Like all network testing equipment, more complex the functionality increases the cost, and selecting the best buy will depend upon the size, complexity and topology of the network.

Wireless Network Challenge
Many testing vendors already offer products that analyze 3G wireless networks. However, this guide lists a surprising number of products that analyze Bluetooth, which is designed for short-distance wireless communications or wireless PANs (personal area networks). Though security, standards and interoperability remain issues, some believe that Bluetooth will offer an alternative to 802.11b wireless LANs, and Bluetooth products already appear in several adapter cards and interfaces for handhelds, desktops, and laptops. Cahners In-Stat, a research group, estimates that 100 million Bluetooth products will ship next year, with one billion shipping by 2005, and test equipment vendors obviously anticipate this type of growth.

Meeting the Future
Network managers trust that as networking technologies advance, the network test equipment vendors will create product to manage and control the network. Most vendors already support or are developing products to test, analyze, and manage such technologies as gigabit Ethernet, Voice over IP (VoIP), 3G wireless networks, and Bluetooth. These tools will continue to improve, and network managers will need those tools to keep the corporate infrastructure running efficiently.

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