Large-Scale Service Monitoring

BOSTON (06/12/2000) - Without connectivity, you don't have a network. When a network goes down, troubleshooters want to quickly learn which device is failing so they can restore network connectivity, while folks on the business side of the house need to know which workgroups and business functions are affected by an outage.

Avesta Technologies Inc., recently acquired by Visual Networks Inc., says its Trinity network management product answers these questions. In our test of Avesta's recent release, Trinity 2.0.3, we measured how accurately and swiftly Trinity pinpoints connectivity errors, how faithfully it identifies the business functions affected by a connectivity error and what other connectivity management features it offers.

We found that for networks cared for by proactive administrators, Trinity provides an excellent high-level view of network connectivity. However, we would like the product better if it offered multiplatform server health and utilization monitoring.

Trinity can relate business functions to network devices and then locate the root cause of an outage. Its ability to associate a business function with network devices depends on an administrator entering, and periodically updating, business function and workgroup descriptions for new or replaced network devices - a tedious chore on a large network. However, not only does Trinity detect the error, but it also tells you which workgroup the error affects.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that Trinity automatically notes the relationships between network nodes during its initial and ongoing discovery process so a network administrator doesn't have to create or maintain correlation rules to show dependencies among devices and subnets.

In our tests, Trinity successfully identified the causes of connectivity problems, but only if the network devices were SNMP-aware, used TCP/IP or were Windows clients running Trinity's agent software. It quickly and accurately detected router failures, switch problems and WAN link outages. However, Trinity isn't an appropriate tool for non-TCP/IP networks, non-Windows clients or for pinpointing anything other than connectivity problems.

Trinity consists of a client console, an object server, an enterprise service model process application, a central data store and a collection of agent managers.

We found using the client console's Win32 interface to be fairly intuitive and straightforward. Through it, we configured agent managers, customized vendor profiles and viewed network maps.

Avesta provides a useful reporting tool and associated report templates for revealing historical connectivity data and spotting availability trends.

Because Trinity stores device and event data in a relational database, we were also able to use Crystal Reports to design and run custom reports.

Additionally, a small Java program displays real-time alarm and event information.

We were disappointed Trinity didn't offer an administrative browser-based interface for better remote administration of the product.

The enterprise service process application, which runs on Windows NT or Solaris, determines the relationships between network nodes, maintains Trinity's database representation of a network and analyzes connectivity faults.

Trinity's object server is middleware that buffers network events, while the data store is an Oracle 7.3.4 database. As they discovered and monitored our network infrastructure, the agent managers' network bandwidth consumption was reasonable, varying from 2 percent to 8 percent.

Avesta's approach to discovering nodes on large networks is realistic. We liked being able to interrupt and later resume the discovery process, and we noticed Trinity was smart enough to recognize an NT multi-interface RAS-based modem cluster and thus avoid repetitively requesting redundant information about the interfaces.

Trinity takes an objectoriented view of a network, treating each SNMP-aware network device, pingable IP node, Windows client, business group and Trinity-instrumented application as a managed object. Trinity regularly verifies connectivity for the objects it manages, and stores the objects and connectivity information in the Oracle database.

When a portion of the network becomes unreachable, Trinity uses its knowledge of which objects depend on others to find the root cause of the outage. If 10 clients and a file server connected to a router go off the air, Trinity identifies the router or WAN link as the likely culprit and explains which business functions the outage affects. Because it let us prioritize business functions and workgroups, Trinity even suggested which repairs we should make first when we tested multiple concurrent connectivity problems.

For recoverable device and computer connectivity failures, such as router crashes fixed by sending a soft reset command to the router, Trinity can execute scripts, third-party tools or programs to take corrective action.

To help you understand your network better, Trinity has a test button that can simulate the failure of specific network devices to help you determine the impact of such a failure.

We easily integrated Trinity with BMC Patrol 2000 in the lab to collect from each Patrol agent network resource and event data. Trinity then correlated the data with its list of managed objects. Avesta offers integration with NetIQ, Compaq Insite, Sun Management Center, Unicenter TNG and SystemEDGE.

Trinity installation is simple, but setting up the bundled Oracle database takes extra effort. The documentation is clear, comprehensive and helpful.

If you have a large network consisting of SNMP-aware devices, IP-addressable nodes and Windows clients, you'll find Avesta's Trinity worth a look.

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

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