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Packet Design offers router's eye view of the network

Most of today's network monitoring tools provide a decent snapshot of devices, but few can offer a router's eye view of network traffic flows. A new product from Packet Design does just that, and both an analyst and a user explain how it can help managers of large networks.

Network monitoring tools are good at providing network managers with a snapshot of how their devices are functioning, but what's often missing is a picture of how traffic flows through the network.

Now a new product has targeted exactly that problem. Packet Design Inc., a month-old Palo Alto, Calif., spin off of Packet Design LLC, has released its first product: Route Explorer. The product is designed to give network managers a router's eye view of what is going on across their local area network and across their wide area network links.

Michael Hoch, a research director with Boston research firm Aberdeen Group, said that the product provides network managers with crucial information that they have thus far been unable to easily obtain with other network monitoring tools.

"Network managers want clarity as to what their network is doing," he said. "Hewlett-Packard's OpenView tells them how their equipment is operating, but it does not tell them about how traffic is flowing across the network." Route Explorer provides them with that missing information, he said.

Route Explorer is the first product to take this approach, Hoch said, but many other companies are working on similar products that may hit the market in the next six to 12 months.

Route Explorer has proven particularly useful for managing large networks like the one at the University of California, Berkeley. Clifford Frost, director of communication and network services for the university, said that Packet Design's product is the first to give him a clear view into the complex and redundant routing systems on his network.

For instance, if someone configures a router incorrectly, he said, the information he receives about individual devices is often not enough to pinpoint the problem. But, with Route Explorer, he can see into how routers are directing the traffic on his network, which helps him pinpoint a problem more efficiently.

Jeff Raice, executive vice president of marketing for Packet Design, said that, instead of wading through the hundreds of error messages that a network problem can generate, managers who use Route Explorer can see how errors affect traffic flows, helping them pinpoint the problem more quickly.

Route Explorer also stores traffic flow information so that network managers can view current traffic patterns, as well as historical traffic flows. That can help managers find the root cause of a problem, as well as the consequences of the errors as they play out across the network over time, Hoch said.

As more applications become Web-based, consistent network performance will become increasingly important for businesses, Hoch said. With thin client applications, problems like latency and jitter will become much more visible to users, making product like Route Explorer that much more valuable.

Route Explorer is not a product for small companies, Hoch said. Starting at $35,000, it is aimed at businesses that have routers and facilities in multiple locations. He said that large corporate campuses and universities would benefit most.


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