Loran upgrades network management

Loran Technologies Inc. next month will release a new version of its network management system that will provide advanced frame-relay diagnostics, a high degree of integrated automation and a function called active reporting. The latter enables users to launch tasks to fix network problems that a system discovers automatically.

Now in early beta testing, Loran's KinNetics 3.0 network management system also will be able to export data through Extensible Markup Language (XML), an extension of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) that is fast becoming the standard for electronic data interchange on the Internet. The XML exporting capability was added to overcome an interoperability gap in KinNetics 2.0, said David Levy, chairman of Vienna, Va.-based Loran.

"Version 3.0 represents a radically new approach to network management," said Dennis Drogseth, research director of Enterprise Management Associates, an analyst firm in Boulder, Colo. "It has information flow and strong frame-relay functionality. It can do data delivery ratio more accurately between two points in frame relay to determine how much data is sent and received."

Drogseth said the method by which KinNetics shows information flow, or volume of network information in conjunction with network port identity, is highly integrated and unusually accurate. Information flow is not an integrated part of the network topology structure in other network management systems. "It's a completely unique approach to mapping networked resources," Drogseth said.

Loran's product may be taking advantage of a weakness in the most widely deployed network management system, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OpenView product. "What Loran is capitalizing on is people's frustration with having to manually set up every aspect of OpenView," said Doug Picard, president of International Automation Associates, a network design and integration firm in Monterey, Calif.

The Marine Forces Reserve in New Orleans licensed Loran's KinNetics 2.11 product late last year to manage its frame-relay network linking about 200 cities across the United States. "They're ahead of the game," said Lt. Col. James Hall, assistant chief of staff, G6, for the Information Systems and Telecommunications Support Division. "You buy the hardware and software together as one device. There's no special client software. We only have to run this in one place, and you access it with a [World Wide] Web browser."

Hall said the product is accurate and easy to use. What makes it a highly usable system is the fact that KinNetics' front end was written in Java and HTML, Loran's Levy said. Hall said he chose KinNetics over OpenView last year because of its high degree if integration and automation. "It integrates network appliances," he said. "You don't have to configure them. It discovers the network and plots it. Plus, there's a low licensing cost compared to HP OpenView."

Gary Stearns, chief architect for OpenView Network Management at HP in Fort Collins, Colo., said the fundamental difference between OpenView and Loran is that Loran sells hardware, and the company's software is part of the appliance. "It is a closed system that third-party extensions cannot run on," he said. "We sell a software solution that runs on [Microsoft Corp. Windows] NT, Sun [Microsystems Inc.] Solaris and HP/UX and can integrate with approximately 300 third-party solutions."

The architectural difference is key and makes it difficult to compare pricing and functionality, Stearns said. "HP Customer Views, which is now shipping, provides frame-relay capability, and we rely on third-party tools to provide deeper detail of frame relay," he said.

Drogseth said an underlying strength of KinNetics is its ability to look at a volume of information across all points of a network in an integrated view from Layer 2 of the Open Systems Interconnection model.

OSI is a framework standard for deploying network protocols in seven layers. Current network management systems look only at Layer 3, the network, rather than Layer 2, the data link, as well as Layer 3. The advantage of looking at the network from both Layer 2 and Layer 3, Drogseth said, is that it provides a more accurate view of network resource connections.

Hall agreed. "That's one of its strengths - also looking at Layer 2," he said. "It's a physical port-to-port map of the network."

Additionally, Hall said the frame-relay subinterfaces provided in Version 3.0 will be an important improvement that could persuade him to upgrade.

However, Drogseth said one of the product's weaknesses is a lack of scalability. Loran said scalability will be improved with the release of Version 4.0 in 2000.

In addition, improved printing capabilities will be part of Version 3.0, Levy said.

Gerber is a free-lance writer based in Kingston, N.Y.

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