CrossNodes Product Briefing: Protocol Analyzers

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.

The Briefing
The product listings which follow include one of each vendors offerings. Most networks represent a combination of technologies, so testing tool will not solve all problems. Fortunately, these vendors generally offer a variety of protocol analyzers as well as other communications test equipment to meet the needs of network managers, and interested buyers should look at the vendors entire product line before making a selection.

Vendor: Agilent Technologies
Product: Agilent Advisor
Network Environment: LAN, WAN, ATM
Vendor: Digitech Industries, Inc.
Product: LAN900
Network Environment: LAN
Vendor: Frontline Test Equipment
Product: SerialBlue Bluetooth Analyzer
Network Environment: Bluetooth/wireless
Vendor: IDS, Inc.
Product: Sherlock WAN Protocol Analyzers
Network Environment: WAN
Vendor: Network Instruments
Product: Observer 7.1
Network Environment: LAN, WAN
Vendor: RADCOM
Product: RC Family
Network Environment: LAN, WAN, ATM, ISDN
Vendor: Shomiti Systems, Inc.
Product: Surveyor 3.2
Network Environments: 10/100 Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, Token Ring
Vendor: Sniffer Technologies
Product: Sniffer Portable 4.5
Network Environment: LAN, WAN, ATM
Vendor: Tektronix, Inc.
Product: BPA100 Bluetooth Protocol Analyzer
Network Environment: Bluetooth
Vendor: WildPackets, Inc.
Product: EtherPeek
Network Environment: LAN, WAN, Websites

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