A Network Management Appliance on a Browser

FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - Can network management be reduced to plug-and-play simplicity and still retain its usefulness? Loran Technologies Inc. claims the answer is yes. Loran has developed a network management appliance that plugs into your network and lets you manage your network via a Web browser.

We were skeptical. So we put Version 3.0 of Loran's Kinnetics Network Manager through a number of network management tasks to find out whether it could accurately discover, manage, troubleshoot and report on our network.

Our tests revealed Kinnetics to be a surprisingly useful tool. It can successfully map, monitor and produce reports for a small to midsize network (fewer than 5,000 devices) if that network consists primarily of SNMP-aware nodes.

For larger networks, using multiple Kinnetics appliances isn't helpful. We verified with the vendor that the units do not coordinate with each other and thus can show only partial views of the entire network.

Plug-and-go net management

The first sign that Loran's engineers have reduced network management to a manageable science is the six-page Kinnetics preinstallation questionnaire. Via the questionnaire, you convey to Loran the vital statistics of your network.

You provide Loran with your IP addressing scheme (static or dynamic), the identity of your default gateway and Domain Name System (DNS) servers, and let the company know if the Kinnetics unit will be Internet-accessible and how many subnets you have on your network.

You also have to tell Loran about the community strings you use, a phone number through which Loran can dial in to the Kinnetics unit for support purposes, the ranges of IP addresses the Kinnetics device should ex-plore as it discovers the network, the types of physical media in use on your network and the brand of file server software you use. Loran then configures a Kinnetics appliance accordingly and ships the turnkey result to you.

After we plugged a unit into our network and gave it an hour or so to ping and poll its way across our environment, we used the Kinnetics browser-based interface to view a network map, set alarm thresholds and produce reports.

Network utilization rose an almost imperceptible 1 percent during the Kinnetics discovery process and therefore did not affect network performance.

The unit gleaned its network topology information from SNMP Management Information Bases (MIB), Address Resolution Protocol caches, bridge and router tables, and DNS messages. Our tests showed that the product correctly handled MIBs from most network devices. A few, such as the Samsung SmartEther 10/100 NWay Managed Switch, were not discovered by the product.To the vendor's credit, it has a formal procedure for adding support for a customer's devices if they aren't already provided for.

The unit itself looks like a slim desktop PC. It has network cable ports, a VGA connector, floppy disk drive and other PC attributes, but the keyboard port accepts only Loran's calculator-size numeric keypad for direct entry of Kinnetics parameters.

Because the unit arrives pre-configured, you rarely use the keypad. In our lab, we used the Kinnetics Web browser interface for virtually all access to the unit's parameters, status information, network map and reports.

Discovering and reporting

For each network node it discovers, Kinnetics records the network address, device type, vendor ID and model information. Kinnetics finds SNMP-aware devices as advertised, but it couldn't see nonmanaged or SNMP-disabled devices.

For instance, our Ascend Pipeline 130 router disappeared from the network map when we turned off its SNMP management feature.

A number of Kinnetics' reporting tools are quite useful. The Network Early Warning System contains extrapolation algorithms that produce network usage projections for capacity planning.

These projections, which appear right on the network map, pinpoint network bottlenecks graphically. Another report, the Automatic Break and Fault Finder, identifies link, port and device failures, and the Network Health panel shows an overview of networkwide conditions. When our alarm thresholds were triggered, Kinnetics e-mailed us and paged us to let us know a problem had occurred.

Kinnetics' real-time reports gave us several other up-to-the-minute views of our network, including traffic prediction, performance, frame relay link status, server status and desktop client connectivity. The frame relay report's display of availability and bandwidth utilization also gave us helpful recommendations for changes in committed information rate.

The real-time, interactive network map is Kinnetics' strongest feature.

Java-based and displayed in a Web browser window, the network map let us drill down via point-and-click to access SNMP MIB detail for all the devices Kinnetics could see. The network map's representation of devices and links was unambiguous. In a separate panel, the software displayed a real-time network health summary showing the availability of key devices and links as well as traffic and error information for all network segments. Its graphical rendering of our subnets was sluggish but not unacceptably so.

Installing Kinnetics is a matter of just plugging it into your network, and the product's documentation is excellent. We think the unit is a bit pricey, but it does come with on-site training. If your network is reasonably small and consists mostly of SNMP-manageable devices, you should look closely at Loran's Kinnetics network management appliance.

Nance, a software developer and consultant for 29 years, is the author of Introduction to Networking, 4th Edition (Que, 1997) and Client/Server LAN Programming (Que, 1994). You can contact him atbarryn @erols. com.

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