Small device delivers the big picture

As networks become more complex, so does the task of managing and monitoring them. Most network installations have at least several tools that monitor the network, perform tests and more. But these tools are often cumbersome to configure and use, and it takes more than one to provide a consolidated view of the network.

Most network tools are also not portable, so a traveling information technology manager or consultant must configure the appropriate tools at each site and switch between several of them to perform comprehensive diagnostics — a time-consuming task.

To solve these problems, agencies might consider the OptiView Integrated Network Analyzer from Fluke Networks Inc.

The OptiView is a portable unit that combines several network tools into one device and displays a network overview on one integrated screen. It tests all seven Open System Interconnection (OSI) layers, from the cable to the application. It's designed for ease of use and mobility, and it meets those goals well.

The unit weighs just 7 pounds in its carrying case and with the external battery attached. It measures approximately 9 inches wide by 10 inches high. Without the external battery, the OptiView is about 2.5 inches thick. The 1-inch-thick battery, which attaches to the back of the unit, provides 1.5 hours of life in addition to the 1.5 hours provided by the internal battery.

The 640x480 passive display, color touch screen is just under 6 inches wide and slightly over 5 inches high, which provides plenty of viewing space. The screen images are grainy in some spots, but that doesn't impede readability. A snazzy purple stylus is included.

The OptiView is available in three models: the Standard, featuring 10Base-T and 100Base-TX Ethernet support; the Pro, which adds remote monitoring (RMON) and RMON2 support, a 100Base-FX fiber-optic interface, pocket capture and decoding capability; and the model we tested, the Pro Gigabit, which features 1000Base-X Ethernet interfaces in addition to all the features of the Pro model.

The system has plenty of ports in addition to the network interfaces, including a serial port, charger jack with status LED, internal wire mapper for patch cord testing, two USB ports, two PS/2 ports and a Type II PC Card slot.

The OptiView runs on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 98. Setup couldn't be easier. Simply connect the power cord and any network cables, then press the power button.

The unit automatically brings up the Network Front Page, a view that displays eight informational areas, including local network utilization, protocol statistics, problem discovery and device discovery. Clicking on any area brings up a full, detailed screen of information. In other words, it's your network at a glance, right away. There is nothing to configure. The screen immediately displays real-time network statistics using lists, graphs and charts.

The OptiView is wonderfully intuitive. Tabs enable users to move between screens quickly and easily. All fields are clearly labeled, and the organization is logical. All buttons are very large and, therefore, easy to select with the stylus. It's obvious this software package was designed for touch-screen use, which is quite refreshing for anyone who has experienced the frustration of trying to tap tiny squares on a screen that does not respond properly.

One of our favorite features is a keyboard button next to every field that can take typed user input. Tapping the button brings up a roomy on-screen keyboard and automatically highlights the field so users can simply start typing then close the keyboard when finished.

The OptiView combines the functions of at least three network tools: RMON2 probes, protocol analyzers and cable testers. It reports RMON and Simple Network Management Protocol statistics and performs packet capture, active discovery and physical layer tests.

In addition, the unit can be accessed remotely using only a network connection and a Web browser, allowing up to seven operators to access a single OptiView simultaneously.

Because the OptiView reports results in industry-standard formats, including RMON2 and sniffer trace files, the unit can integrate with existing network management tools such as Cisco Systems Inc.'s CiscoWorks, Distributed Sniffer software and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s HP OpenView.

Functionality, portability and ease of use make the OptiView a very handy tool for network administrators, especially those on the go.


OptiView Integrated Network Analyzer

Grade: A

Fluke Networks Inc.
(800) 283-5853

Price and availability: The OptiView is available on the GSA schedule. The Standard model costs $12,495; the Pro model costs $14,995; and the Pro Gigabit model costs $22,995.

Remarks: The OptiView is an innovative, extremely useful tool for network administrators or consultants on the go.


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