Know your network

A good network-management tool has just become better. When we reviewed Ipswitch Inc.'s Whats-Up Gold Version 5.0 in May, it had just acquired a Web capability and some new reporting features. We were eager to find what improvements had been added to the recently released Version 6.0. As usual, we ignored the manuals and happily played with constructing new maps of our systems, which is probably the fastest way to learn how to use WhatsUp. We soon came across some new and handy features, such as the ability to zoom in and resize maps independently of each other.

Because maps of our networks can be generated automatically, you might think that the reason we need a manual map editing capability is so that descriptive information can be added. For example, we can draw information to show in which building and room to find a particular router. But that is only part of the story. The truth is that autodiscovery can seldom find all of the servers, routers and other devices in a large organization. There are several possible causes of inaccuracy in the maps automatically generated by network monitoring tools. Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) might not be turned on in key devices. Or a virtual local-area network might have caused confusing information in an SNMP database. Or a complex port probe may simply have returned the wrong information.

So, although autodiscovery saves an enormous amount of time, the resulting maps must be checked and edited by the savvy network manager.

Many of the improvements in Whats-Up appear minor but are useful. For example, you can filter the log files for certain dates and generate additional reports.

Unlike some of its competitors, WhatsUp is not limited to TCP /IP; it can use IPX to poll Novell Inc. NetWare devices and NetBIOS for NetBIOS devices such as PCs running Microsoft Corp. Windows operating systems. So you can monitor your whole network, wherever it is.

WhatsUp lets you specify the number of missed polls before an alert is triggered. And it lets you specify trigger levels for SNMP traps. Still, we'd like to see graphic notification when there are systems whose performance is starting to degrade, which is a feature of Network Instruments LLC's Link Analyst. And it would be nice to have it watch Windows NT/2000 machines for excessive resource consumption, which is a trick a few competitors achieve — such as MediaHouse Software Inc.'s ipMonitor — by monitoring NT Performance Monitor data, along with scrutinizing logs and other files on Windows systems.

We found the most interesting new feature of WhatsUp Gold to be its SNMP Viewer tool. For any SNMP object on your network, such as a router, you can use the viewer to sift through the Management Information Base to make quick checks of the different types of traffic flowing through the router. And you can monitor several SNMP objects for further information on the health of the router.

WhatsUp Gold costs $100 more than it did last year, but it remains a good buy, despite the fact that competitors have closed the gap in feature sets. The business of network monitoring is evolving into real network management, and even into automated network healing. We hope future versions of WhatsUp continue in this direction, while retaining broad support of network devices.

It is true that good software tools are of little use without competent systems and network managers to use them. But once you've attracted these experts to your enterprise, it only makes sense to give them the best tools available to keep the operation running smoothly. For small- to medium-size enterprises with multiple topologies and diverse operating systems, Whats-Up Gold should definitely be considered in this set of tools.

Greer is a senior network analyst at a large Texas state agency. He can be reached at Earl.Greer@ dhs.state.tx.us.

REPORT CARD

WhatsUp Gold 6.0

Score: B+

Ipswitch Inc.
(781) 676-5700
www.ipswitch.com

Price and availability: WhatsUp Gold costs $795, but Ipswitch offers discounts to government customers and those who buy multiple copies. WhatsUp Gold 6.0 is available on the General Services Administration schedule.

Remarks: WhatsUp Gold tells you from moment to moment what is going on in your network by displaying real-time maps of your systems. New features — including diagramming tools and vector-based graphics, an autodiscovery wizard, a log-manager tool and a Simple Network Management Protocol viewer — make WhatsUp Gold more flexible and extend its SNMP capabilities. Those improvements mean WhatsUp Gold is still a cost-effective solution for organizations with multiple protocols and mixed platforms, despite a price increase since the release of the previous version. WhatsUp Gold runs on PCs using the Microsoft Corp. Windows 95, 98, 2000 and NT operating systems.


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