Sniffer gets enterprise-scale upgrade

Network General last week uncrated product enhancements that make it possible to centrally manage distributed copies of its popular Sniffer protocol-analysis tools.

The company, which McAfee sold to investors last year for US$275 million after having acquired it in 1997 for US$1.3 billion, says the enhancements are just one example of efforts underway to return the company to its former glory.

Investors brought in new management -- company President Michael Pope joined in March 2005 -- and have ratcheted up headcount from 450 to 600. Pope says at the time of the buyout there were only four people in support. Now there are 40, and headcount in research and development alone has climbed from 130 to more than 200. Some US$30 million was spent on R&D last year and about that will be spent this year.

"We have invested heavily in R&D to take our protocol analysis and troubleshooting expertise to a higher level for enterprise customers," Pope says. The upgrades will send competitors such as NetScout scrambling, Pope says, because "we are no longer just a point product."

As part of this announcement, Network General enhanced three core pieces of its enterprise platform.

  • Sniffer Infinistream 2.5 adds ATM WAN support to the LAN traffic monitoring and packet capture tool. With the product's 4-terabyte storage capacity, network administrators can now trouble shoot problems on a range of links by replaying packets captured over hours if not days. The company also announced the i120 appliance, which is a 1U device designed for network edge and small network deployments that can capture months of network traffic data and can store up to 300 gigabytes of data. The i120 complements the existing i1620, which boasts 4 terabytes of storage and comes in three models, and the i420, another packet capture appliance that comes with one terabyte of storage.
  • And Sniffer MultiSegment Intelligence, a software product that runs on top of other products and can track the performance of Web-based applications across network, server and database environments. Network General says the product targets environments that generate https and SQL traffic, such as Oracle, IBM DB2, MySQL and Microsoft SQL Server.
  • And Version 4.0 of the Sniffer Enterprise Administrator makes it possible to collect in real time and store data from up to 100 distributed Sniffer probes loaded with software agents. The software comes loaded on a Windows XP server and auto discovers Distributed Sniffer appliances, but is also available as software only.

The products are scheduled to be available in December, at which time Network General will determine pricing. The company plans to share the news with more than 100 customers at its Sniffer User Summit 2005 this week in Miami.

Jeff Duke, senior network engineer for the State of Indiana in Indianapolis, is beta testing Visualizer 4.0 to support 25 distributed Sniffers installed at key points of the network, which supports some 30,000 end users.

Duke also uses Sniffer Portable tools for on-the-spot trouble-shooting and problem resolution. Duke says the upgraded Visualizer is a boon, letting him collect data in 20 minutes whereas it used to take 24 hours.

"We use Sniffer to troubleshoot and diagnose network-related application performance problems," Duke says. "I've dealt with Sniffer for about 10 years and when they made it possible to remotely manage and monitor distributed Sniffers and report on the traffic there -- instead of lugging a laptop out and hoping to catch the problem -- for me, it was the best thing since sliced bread."

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