Ipswitch upgrades network monitoring tool

For the second time this year, Ipswitch Inc. has updated its flagship network monitoring software product WhatsUp Gold, which the company says provides smaller networks with a lower-cost and simpler to install alternative to Hewlett-Packard Co.'s (HP's) OpenView and Computer Associates International Inc.'s (CA's) Unicenter.

"WhatsUp Gold only requires one day of training, and three days to bring online," said Dennis Mulryan, vice president of marketing for Ipswitch. The list price for WhatsUp Gold 7.0, available globally December 5, is US$795, or $1,090 with a one-year service agreement.

WhatsUp Gold uses SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) version 1.0 to communicate with network devices. The product "pings" to check the status of network devices, and also responds to SNMP traps, or messages sent by a network device to inform the network administrator of a problem. The software then notifies the designated network manager through a variety of means such as e-mail, automated voice mail, or pager. The software also includes a number of reporting tools, including maps and charts designed to be understood by business people who are not networking experts, said Mulryan.

New features for version 7.0 include Active Discovery, which actively searches for new network devices at preset intervals; customized detection ranges, which enable network administrators to monitor levels of lost packets; the ability to determine whether a problem lies with a network device or with that device's network connection; and an enhanced Web interface.

"It's a basic, simple product, but one that is good for small to medium-sized businesses," said Jean-Pierre Garbani, senior industry analyst at Giga Information Group Inc.

Many network-management products currently on the market can detect problems at the data-link level (Layer 2) of the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) network model, but WhatsUp Gold is limited to detecting problems at the network, or IP (Internet Protocol) level (Layer 3), Garbani said. It also doesn't provide the event management or event correlation features that the larger enterprise systems have, but a good network administrator in a smaller environment should be able to use the software productively, he said.

Much of the manual labor required to maintain a network can be eliminated with Active Discovery, said Gary Hellman, product manager for WhatsUp Gold. The feature also allows for administrators to ensure they are monitoring the full range of their network, because in larger environments, network devices can be added or deleted by the minute, said Hellman. Sixty-two percent of the companies that use WhatsUp Gold have less than 1,000 employees, said Mulryan.

The ability to detect outages in a device's network connection will save time by specifically denoting the location of the problem, said Hellman. Previously, a device would appear offline on the network map even if the only problem was the connection. A color-coded map lexicon with simple red/green designations now shows whether the problem is with the device or with its network link, he said.

The software can also now be set to issue a warning only when the number of bad or dropped packets reaches a certain level set by the administrator, said Hellman. Users of previous versions often received numerous false outage notices, because the software was unable to determine the number of false or dropped packets running across a network.

One user in a university environment cited WhatsUp Gold's ease of use as the primary reason he continues to use the product. James Amann, network technician lead at Georgia State University, supports roughly 4,400 nodes connected by numerous networking technologies, and uses WhatsUp Gold as his main network-management tool.

"We have an older version of (HP's) OpenView, and we find we don't use all of its functionality," said Amann. "We are able to do everything we need to do with WhatsUp Gold."

WhatsUp Gold runs on all of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows products, but can detect network devices running any operating system, said Hellman. The company is looking into making the product itself available on other operating systems, said Mulryan.

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