The Trend Is Your Friend

BOSTON (05/23/2000) - How you present information can be as important as the information itself. When it comes to network utilization reports, you need to make sure they are clear and easily understood if you want to convince your company that it needs to make network changes. Your reports can make the difference between a network with sufficient bandwidth and one with clogged arteries and high blood pressure.

Realizing this, NetScout Systems Inc. has released WebCast 3.1, a Web-based add-on reporting tool for its NetScout Manager Plus network monitoring software. With summary-level, newspaper-style and detailed, hierarchically arranged Web pages, WebCast augments NetScout Manager Plus ' predefined, fixed-format reports for displaying network utilization.

We evaluated WebCast 's ability to render network statistics in ways that are helpful to people in three areas of enterprises: network troubleshooting, capacity planning and net administration. For all three, our tests showed WebCast is a worthwhile add-on to NetScout Manager Plus. However, WebCast was sometimes sluggish responding to our commands, a problem we attributed to its Java underpinnings.

Earning a NetScout merit badge

Distributing WebCast reports via an intranet or the Internet is easy, as is configuring the reports through WebCast 's HTML-based interface. We liked the way we could interactively modify a report layout and have WebCast instantly, on demand, show data in the new format. Moreover, we found its newspaper-style Web pages easier to grasp than NetScout Manager Plus ' built-in reports, which aren't as customizable or user-friendly. For instance, we configured a WebCast report to graphically show our chief financial officer exactly what his network dollars were buying and what he needed to budget future dollars for. We were impressed by WebCast 's detailed reports of packet statistics, media access control-layer traffic, transport-layer protocol distribution and application-layer network usage.

WebCast offers about 25 templates for building detailed reports. WebCast excels at painting clear and meaningful pictures of network activity. Drilling down through WebCast 's hierarchical layers of graphs and statistics is highly intuitive. The product also supports a variety of settable alerts for quick notification of network problems.

The newspaper-style reports, which you 'd typically schedule for overnight production to depict the previous day 's network activity, are a quick overview of key pieces of network information, such as the busiest 10 applications, and the most and least heavily used segments. An administrator can schedule the exporting of these reports as .GIF image files, easily embedded in non-WebCast Web pages that the administrator might have separately designed. Administrators can also create real-time reports. By interactively selecting which statistics a real-time report contains, administrators can focus precisely on the network attributes they're interested in.

Although WebCast 's reports are highly user-configurable, you may not need to alter them. We found the default out-of-the-box reports provided by NetScout to be well-designed and meaningful.

Designing a custom report is child 's play. For example, to create a detailed analysis report, we simply chose a combination of graphical and text report entries. The entries included such network parameters as IF Speed, Duration, Utilization, Octets and Packets. Via the WebCast user interface, we titled the report and clicked on the report options we wanted. WebCast let us select up to 15 statistics to show on each report. WebCast then displayed the result as a collection of report entries in a single Java applet frame in our browser.

Scheduling the reports was similarly easy.

WebCast prepares five report categories: baseline and trend; performance; flow; application; and link. The baseline and trend reports illustrate general network utilization; the flow and performance reports measure response times; the application reports identify business functions that need more bandwidth; and the link reports show statistics such as WAN utilization, packet size distributions, WAN circuit errors and WAN uptime.

Not a stand-alone product

WebCast integrates closely with NetScout Manager Plus ' Trend Reporter component, which indirectly supplies WebCast with the data it renders. WebCast 's reports are all the more comprehensive and helpful because NetScout Manager Plus interprets and analyzes Management Information Bases from almost every sort of SNMP-aware device. At the application level, WebCast reported how much of the network traffic came from data access middleware (such as Open Database Connectivity), file service packets and HTTP (Web server) access. We also mined the NetScout data store for frame relay statistics that revealed utilization and uptime data for each Data Link Connection Identifier.

Using a few weeks ' worth of statistics gathered by NetScout Manager Plus, WebCast accurately told us who was using our network, which applications were consuming bandwidth, when the network was busiest and whether the network was performing satisfactorily.

Finally, WebCast 's security feature imposed access controls on the tool 's Web pages. Based on user ID and password authentications, the controls not only granted or denied access to WebCast reports, but they also determined which portions of a report a user could see. Using a few simple group memberships, limiting the visibility of highly technical, easily misconstrued application-level bandwidth utilization statistics was quite painless.

If you use NetScout Manager Plus, you should seriously consider adding WebCast to your network report preparation toolbox.

Nance, a software developer and consultant for 29 years, is the author of Introduction to Networking, and Client/Server LAN Programming. He can be contacted at

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