Dirty Dancing with AppDancer - Page 2

 By Beth Cohen
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What makes this unique application truly powerful is the ability to track and analyze application workflow sessions in the context of the network in as much detail as you wish. You can even record and track individual sessions. I.e. not only can you track SMTP (e-mail) traffic, but you can actually capture and analyze someone downloading an individual e-mail and view the contents (only if it is unencrypted of course). You will be able to see not only information about the network protocols, but a report showing all the packets associated with the e-mail session.

In addition, AppDancer/FA comes with a wealth of useful built-in reports. They all use the standard format for simplicity. For sophisticated users, you can create your own custom reports using simple clickable menus. You can also quickly create customized filters, alarms, thresholds and other useful monitoring tools.

Things to Watch
Plan on dedicating a powerful machine for this application. Don't make the mistake I did and load it on a machine that is connected to your network with a wireless 802.11 connection. It quickly brought my machine to a screeching halt. "Support for wireless networks is coming in the next release," O'Neill said. "Lots of people have been requesting that."

As the well-written and comprehensive manual so nicely puts it, "The AppDancer/FA product is a sophisticated program for analyzing today's complex networks. While the AppDancer/FA product provides an intuitive user interface, the user still must understand the data that is presented. This manual is NOT intended to explain the complex subject of networking, network troubleshooting, or application debugging."

This software is not for the heavy-duty telecom or data operations center that will need extensive scripting and database interface capabilities, but for the rest of us who need a well-integrated tool to keep our companies' networks humming this is an excellent tool to add to the arsenal.

Here is a quick rundown on some of the more advanced features in the package. Wireless protocols and additional applications are planned for the next product release.

  • Oracle real-time monitoring. You can monitor Oracle Server user transactions in real-time using a unique "ladder and application content" views to display the complex flows of information and the application logic for each Oracle transaction.
  • SCCP ("skinny client control protocol") real-time monitoring. You can monitor the entire call setup, management of the call and the call shut down process of SCCP, Cisco's version of VoIP call setup and RTP (real time protocol) flow support.
  • VLAN support. View actual VLAN tagged station-level flows in real-time using the IEEE 802.1Q addressing scheme.

Where Do I Sign Up?
Who would be interested in AppDancer/FA? Anyone who needs to monitor and analyze a network would benefit, that includes network engineers, systems administrators, and IT security people -- really, technical IT staff of any stripe. Government and law enforcement agencies are using it to track potentially illegal activity. For a mid-sized company that needs sophisticated analysis but has minimal staff resources, this tool could be very useful.

"AppDancer products redefine network analysis by uniquely combining network application monitoring, network device monitoring, and network data capture, and analysis into one easy-to-use package." So says a recent press release about the latest version of the product. Nevertheless, don't take their word for it -- try it yourself. Go to the AppDancer corporate website at www.appdancer.com and download the demo version. It is a full-featured version that only works for 14 days. If you are as impressed as I am with this easy-to-use network monitoring and analysis tool, you can easily convert your demo into a purchase.

Beth Cohen is president of Luth Computer Specialists, a consulting practice specializing in IT infrastructure for smaller companies. She has been in the trenches supporting company IT infrastructure for over 20 years in a number of different fields including architecture, construction, engineering, software, telecommunications, and research. She is currently writing a book about IT for the small enterprise and pursuing an Information Age MBA from Bentley College.

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This article was originally published on Jan 7, 2003
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