SAN MATEO (03/13/2000) - One question that's sure to strike fear into the heart of any system manager is, "Why is the network so slow?" Staff members become impatient because it takes too long to do their jobs, managers become upset because the staff is becoming unproductive, and slow networks can mean missed deadlines for companies on tight schedules.
Network Instruments LLC's Link Analyst 2.0a is a slick, easy-to-use program designed to help answer this question. It lets IT staff members monitor QoS (quality of service) agreements, decide if the infrastructure should be upgraded, or recognize if a problem is transient.
At $495, Link Analyst is a cost-effective product that network managers should have in their tool chests. Link Analyst can either scrutinize the performance of networked computers or monitor the path to remote computer resources to let you know where the communications have faltered. It can also watch many sets of systems at the same time for performance, and examine the routes that information takes from one network to and from other systems.
I haven't seen any other tool that performs quite the same functions as Link Analyst. Ipswitch's WhatsUp Gold and PingPack Pro come close, but Link Analyst is more focused than WhatsUp Gold, and more capable than PingPack Pro. Given its ease of use and overall quality, it was easy to award Link Analyst a score of Very Good.
Link Analyst seems to be somewhat stronger using IP than using IPX networks, the only protocol it supported until NetWare 5 was released. However, it monitors both, as well as Microsoft networking.
After the wizard set up the nodes, I was able to finely adjust the monitoring parameters. The time between scans is configurable, as is the amount of time allowed per scan, and the thresholds of good, marginal, or poor performance.
Link Analyst offers a wealth of information about network performance. Charts and graphs are available to show the communication speed. Better yet, the charts can be sorted by the alert status, name, or the number of good, marginal, or poor polls with a single mouse-click. Response times are graphed and readily available.
Link Analyst can also monitor routes. I send a lot of information between my office and a local university. The performance is usually poor, but Link Analyst clearly revealed the reasons. The messages have to cross 24 hops, traveling from Texas to Georgia then to Illinois, back to Texas, and then to the school, which is less than a 15-minute drive away. In the course of my testing, the route changed several times, and Link Analyst told me when. It also let me know where message slowdowns occurred. This feature lets a network manager stay on top of critical data paths, offering them the chance to fix the problems before the phone starts ringing.
I had Link Analyst monitoring two class C subnets, an IPX network with nine nodes, and had it keeping track of the route to the university. Link Analyst never missed a beat; it monitored all the machines, and the machine was available for other uses as well.
Link Analyst is also easy to use -- a very important consideration when network problems have stressed your staff. Link Analyst is not a packet analyzer, and it won't give you a low-level view of your network, but it does give a very good high-level view. Link Analyst offers several ways to display your network maps, including using graphics of your actual floor plans.
All in all, Link Analyst is a high-quality product, one that will delight almost any network manager.
Mike Avery (email@example.com) is a networking consultant in Beaumont, Texas.
THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD
Network Instruments Link Analyst 2.0a
Business Case: Link Analyst is a very useful and affordable tool that monitors network performance, allowing staff to identify trouble spots before they turn into companywide crises.
Technology Case: Link Analyst is easy to use and monitors network performance on a number of systems, including the performance of links between systems. It also provides user notification if problems occur and gives a good overview of networks.
+ Good user interface
+ Speedy performance
+ Allows operator to isolate network problems quickly+ Very attractive priceCons:
- Inefficient alert notifications; no way to dynamically create message titles- Weak pager handlingCost: $495 per copy; minimal training and implementation costsPlatform(s): Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NTNetwork Instruments Llc.; Minneapolis; (800) 526-7919 www.networkinstruments.com.