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NetFlow analyzers moving upstream

As bandwidth consumption and application performance continue to be hot topics, vendors are announcing enhancements to their NetFlow readers and analyzers.

Growing concern over bandwidth consumption and application performance has opened the floodgates for vendors to offer products that collect, read and analyze NetFlow data.

Recently, NetScout and AdventNet Inc. have updated their NetFlow analysis capabilities, and more vendors are planning announcements soon.

Experts said NetFlow, a data collection feature built into certain routers and switches from Cisco Systems Inc., Extreme Networks and others, is becoming a key way for companies to troubleshoot and monitor a network and ensure applications are working properly.

"Companies are increasingly adopting NetFlow as a cost-effective way to establish and extend network performance management with application-level visibility," Jasmine Noel, partner at IT analyst firm Ptak, Noel & Associates, said in a statement. "NetFlow delivers granular data on how specific applications are used and how usage impacts network performance as a whole."

NetFlow-enabled products collect IP traffic that flows through the interface. The routers generate NetFlow records, which are exported in packets and collected using various vendor software and appliances.

NetFlow readers and analyzers take the collected and stored data and break it down into a visible form, telling organizations who is using the network, what makes up network traffic, what applications are running, and who and what is consuming bandwidth.

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"It gives you an amazing amount of visibility into the traffic on your network," said Raghunandhan Ramanujam, product manager of the NetFlow Analyzer from AdventNet. "It answers questions many businesses have about bandwidth use. You can make a judgment if these are critical applications using bandwidth or if they're non-critical applications that could be using a lot of bandwidth."

The NetFlow Analyzer, Ramanujam said, also works as a troubleshooting tool for businesses that want to determine why a network is running slow, while assisting in capacity planning.

The NetFlow Analyzer takes collected data and generates reports on top hosts, top applications, top protocols and top conversations. Reports can be customized for network managers to see bandwidth usage across interfaces and IP addresses. The software can also view bandwidth usage per application and per department based on IP address ranges and port/protocol combinations, Ramanujam said.

AdventNet last week began offering small to midsized businesses a 30-day free trial of its NetFlow Analyzer software. The free download can be used on up to two interfaces and has all of the features of AdventNet's professional edition.

NetScout, based in Westford, Mass., recently announced it is expanding its nGenius Performance Manager appliance to support the latest version of NetFlow. The new version, Version 9, has been adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force as the IP flow information export standard.

Eileen Haggerty, senior manager of solutions marketing for NetScout, said the updated nGenius can show a company "who is using the network, when they're using it and what they're using it for."

It also gives network managers better insight into how traffic behaves, Haggerty said. The product works in concert with NetScout's nGenius Flow Collector, which takes data from the routers and switches and relays it to the Performance Manager.

Haggerty said NetFlow is often used by companies to engineer traffic flow, to determine usage-based billing and for visibility in multiple label-switching networks.

"It's definitely a technology that's being adopted by more and more companies," Haggerty said. "It's not just taking what it saw and spitting it back at you, it's helping customers make different decisions on different parts of their networks."

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