Sniffer, WildPackets offer protocol analyzers

Protocol analyzers are standard tools for managing wired LANs, but until now they have been missing from the enterprise tool chest for wireless LANs.

Sniffer Technologies, a Network Associates Inc. business unit, has released a wireless version of its network protocol analyzer for wireless LANs based on the IEEE 802.11b standard. And WildPackets Inc. (formerly AG Group), also offers PC-based software that grabs Ethernet packets from the radio medium.

Sniffer Wireless, a version of Sniffer Technologies' well-known analysis product for wired LANs, loads on a Windows PC equipped with a wireless LAN card from Agere Systems Inc. (a Lucent Technologies Inc. company), Cisco Systems Inc. or Symbol Technologies Inc. With the analyzer, managers can see who's logged on, check the radio frequency strength of the LAN's access points (sometimes called base stations), watch LAN performance as traffic increases, and verify interoperability between various wireless products and applications.

"You can see what's going on and manage a wireless net just as you do with wired LANs," says Tina Stewart, vice president of business development for Sniffer.

Sniffer also is working with other wireless LAN vendors, helping them create software drivers so their wireless LAN cards will work with the analyzer. The software monitors the 14 channels that are used in an 802.11b LAN, decodes the packets and presents data in a set of graphical views, called dashboards. The software includes an application that detects alarms and offers an explanation of probable causes. The same application automatically identifies an array of problems, such as misconfigured routers, duplicate network addresses, and performance choke points.

To sort out encrypted packets, the software needs the same Wired Equivalent Protocol key used by the other wireless devices in an 802.11b LAN. But a key isn't needed for Sniffer to read control packets, which include information on the net's use, because these are sent in the clear.

Sniffer Wireless is available now on Windows 98, NT and 2000. Pricing is US$17,995.

Earlier this year, WildPackets of Walnut Creek, Calif., shipped its version of a wireless protocol analyzer. AiroPeek is based on the company's EtherPeek product for wired nets. Developed with help from Cisco, AiroPeek emphasizes features to enhance wireless security. The software continuously scans for failed attempts at authentication, and includes filters to find encrypted traffic sent to or from unknown MAC addresses, which might indicate an outside intruder.

AiroPeek is available now, priced at $1,995. Different classes of yearly maintenance contracts can boost the price to $3,795.

Last week, WildPackets released NetSense 4.1, which is an application that pulls information from the net packets and displays the results in several graphical views. The new release now supports 802.11b wireless LANs for the first time. WildPackets previously sold two versions of NetSense, one that reads the company's Peek file format and a second that reads a more universal format. The 4.1 release reads both. The price is $995.

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