Product Review: Accurate NetCracker Cuts Costly Errors

To prevent expensive network-engineering blunders, you need accurate needs assessment and a nearly clairvoyant prediction of future demands. As your network becomes more complex, you can reduce risks with pre-implementation modeling tools that help envision the impact of a change to your infrastructure.

NetCracker Professional 3.0, NetCracker Technology's latest network design and simulation tool, provides detailed simulation-based modeling and optimization for data, voice, video, and cable networks. It fuses a solid analytical simulation engine with a comprehensive vendor-specific device and protocol library.

I found NetCracker's simulation engine less robust than Comnet Predictor, and I could not assimilate data from as many documentation tools as I could with NetSuite's tool. Nevertheless, NetCracker's intuitive link checking, real-time animation, and break-and-restore testing provide good design validation and predictive analysis. These features plus NetCracker's thorough reporting help avoid expensive mistakes.

NetCracker's most compelling new features are autodiscovery of an existing topology and import from a Hewlett-Packard OpenView repository. You no longer have to replicate entire networks from scratch, making NetCracker more viable in a large environment.

NetCracker uses PING sweeps and SNMP to compile device information. Even though this method is slow, I was impressed by the level of detail it yielded.

Unlike some tools that require you to add details to a generic device, NetCracker's information-rich library contains more than 15,000 network devices, assuring accuracy and reliability during simulation. The data can be further supplemented with custom information.

NetCracker verified the appropriateness of components I added as well as the links created between them, immediately alerting me to mismatched or incompatible devices, ports, and protocols.

I tested my diagram with NetCracker's simulation engine, which animated my model to illustrate network traffic and performance. Any device, packet, or link can be clicked to inspect performance statistics.

NetCracker let me test the efficiency of my configuration by tweaking and modifying traffic conditions in real time. I tested the theoretical impact of a new application and increased traffic on network segments and tested hours of simulated traffic in minutes.

Beyond standard data flow, NetCracker's break-and-restore capability let me disable links and devices in real time, verifying routing bottlenecks and bandwidth stresses. Although it does not capture live data to seed performance metrics, device delays in its library closely resembled my documented baselines and provided fast, usable results.

NetCracker offers solid analytical simulation and a comprehensive device library at a fraction of the cost of competing tools. Administrators of any size network will appreciate the insight it provides in improving network performance and avoiding mistakes.

(James R. Borck (james.borck@industrialart.com) is IS director for Industrial Art & Science in Connecticut.)THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOODNetCracker Professional 3.0Summary: Newly added features, including network autodiscovery, make NetCracker a design and simulation tool worthy of enterprise-level consideration.

Business Case: NetCracker's intuitive link- and device-checking capabilities help users avoid costly compatibility errors. Its comprehensive reporting capability provides strong end-to-end management of design requirements to reduce expensive design mistakes.

Pros

+ Comprehensive device library

+ Includes autodiscovery and HP OpenView import+ Superb link verification+ Real-time simulation modificationsCons- No alert thresholds- No IP planner- Slow autodiscovery on per-segment basisCost: US$9,995; $2,495 per year, monthly device library updates; $1,995 per year, support and free upgradesPlatforms: Windows 95/98, Windows NT 4.x

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