VitalSuite Offers Strong Solution to Downtime

EVEN IN A market bursting with dozens of products, finding the network management solution that meets at least most of your needs is no simple task. With its latest release of VitalSuite, Lucent Technologies Inc. hopes to make that job a little easier. Version 7.0 is a comprehensive package that lets you monitor your network and its servers and devices from a contemporary Web browser. It also helps you find trouble spots before they become critical and cause expensive downtime.

With a starting price of $44,000, VitalSuite compares favorably with competing products, such as NTP System Sentinel, when you look at the price per monitored node or server plus its breadth of features.

Also, because VitalSuite uses a standard browser as the monitor interface, you don't have to worry about your staff having the correct platform to monitor the network -- Macintosh, Windows, Sun, and even free Unix platforms can be used.

Furthermore, monitoring can be done remotely, allowing you to get the benefit of your staff's expertise no matter where they work.

VitalSuite consists of four major parts: VitalNet, VitalAnalysis, VitalHelp, plus VitalAgent, the client monitoring agent for PCs. VitalNet gathers information on SNMP-based devices and from the Vital-Agent-equipped PCs, which it relays to VitalAnalysis and VitalHelp.

VitalAnalysis performs service-level monitoring and historical analysis of system and application performance and trends. By default, it maintains a year's worth of data. VitalHelp assesses the health of TCP/IP-based applications. It can often determine the root cause of a problem, and when it does, it posts alerts to your staff.

After I installed VitalSuite, connecting to its server at the default port made VitalAgent available for download. VitalAgent monitors the client PCs and reports on them to the monitoring system.

In my testing, VitalAgent showed me where delays in communications were occurring, as well as what sites I was connected to. As delivered, VitalAgent understood Web, FTP, telnet, e-mail, and 22 other applications. It monitors them individually and can help sophisticated users find out why their systems aren't working as well or as quickly as they should.

VitalAgent also let me test my PCs from a Web console. This tool can help resolve a wide variety of network issues for users without requiring your help desk staff to visit their computers or try to walk them through the troubleshooting.

Interestingly, all of the interaction with VitalSuite is through a Web interface, either the latest versions of Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE).

After installing VitalSuite, I performed a preliminary network scan, and by the time I connected to the server with IE, it had found the local network and much of my ISP's network. I told it to look for two network hops.

When I looked at VitalSuite's menus for the first time, I immediately understood that their color scheme (dark colors on a black background) requires a very good monitor. I had to readjust my aging monitor to show me what was on screen, so I wish I could've changed the color scheme to lighter colors.

Next I noticed the default screen, called "My Vital," which shows a snapshot of your network's health. You can redefine this screen to contain the reports and information you prefer. My Vital included pointers to commonly used reports, bar graphs showing the quality of the WAN and LAN network segments it was monitoring, and a sorted list of the "Quality Index Leaders" (the systems on the network sorted from lowest availability to the highest). These displays allowed me to root out the current troublemakers without needing to leave the screen.

Despite my complaints about the display, it was informative and easy to navigate after a short learning period. I could easily see what was happening on my systems, as well as those of my ISP. Usage levels were tracked, and the system started making projections about growth needs two days after the system was brought up. From this display I could also look at my PCs' configurations.

As with many such utilities, it misidentified my AMD K6-2-based PC, deciding it was an Intel Pentium MMX. But the rest of the information on all of my systems was correct, including CPU speed, network interface card, configuration details, and so on.

For example, shortly after VitalSuite started, it presented me with an alert for excessive CPU utilization on several machines. A quick check showed that they were running the distributed.net RC5-64 cracking client, which runs a system to 100 percent utilization.

In addition, if you have SNMP-based devices, you can poll and re-configure them with VitalSuite. And VitalSuite can interface with other management packages.

With larger networks, VitalSuite's capability of letting you group devices can help make management easier by letting you focus on a city, a building, or a floor in a building instead of on the whole network.

Even in the few days I evaluated VitalSuite, I discovered new things about my network: My Unix server wasn't SNMP-enabled after all, the FTP port on my NT server was left open again, and the number of collisions on a subnet was excessive. In a larger network, VitalAgent can be an excellent monitoring tool that can prevent expensive, frustrating downtime.

Mike Avery (mavery@mail.otherwhen.com), a networking consultant based in Beaumont, Texas, has designed and supported networks of all sizes.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

Lucent VitalSuite 7.0

Summary: This large feature-rich network management package lets you monitor and check service quality on your network entirely from a popular Web browser.

Business Case: VitalSuite reveals network performance trends and other potential trouble spots in time to prevent them from becoming serious, expensive problems. Because it can help you keep your network running and generating revenue, Version 7.0 is worth its starting cost of $44,000.

Pros:

+ Looks deep into network and resources

+ Controls devices

+ Notifies IT managers of alert conditions+ Completely Web-basedCons:

- Default color schemes not user-definable- Default color schemes do not display well on old, inexpensive monitors- Expensive for some budgetsCost: $44,000, monitors 100 PCs, unlimited servers, 50 additional network devicesPlatform(s): Server: Windows NT; clients: Microsoft Explorer 4.0 or later, Netscape Navigator 4.61 or laterLucent Technologies, Sunnyvale, Calif.; (888) 467-8324 (toll-free), www.ins.com

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