Product Reviews

Keep an Eye on Your Network

Network Analysis with Network Instruments’ Observer 7.1

Do you wonder why your network responds sluggishly at sporadic times? Have you ever wanted to find out who was hogging all the bandwidth? Has your network ever been the victim of a broadcast storm?

These are simply a few of the problems that can be solved using Network Instruments’ Observer 7.1. Not every company can afford to upgrade its network infrastructure, but most companies can afford to improve network efficiency using Observer. This software-based tool reveals network bottlenecks, bandwidth-busting users, traffic patterns, network errors, protocol distribution and much more.

The install processes for both the Observer console and the Observer probes are described simply, but adequately, in the quick start guides. It takes only a few clicks to install both the Observer console and remote monitoring probes. The Observer User Guide manual thoroughly explains the purpose, features and setup of each network analysis and trending tool. Rookie network admins will find the step-by-step instructions in the manual helpful, while veterans will find the manual useful for reference.

Veterans many not need to spend much time in the manuals because Network Instruments made Observer easy to use. The Observer interface is aesthetically appealing, and navigation to each network analysis tool is simply a click away.

Graphic design and simple use aren’t Observer’s only strengths. Observer has all the essential network-monitoring tools. With Observer, you can monitor individual stations, switches and routers on switched, non-switched, single-segment or multiple-segment LANs. In any of these environments, you can use Observer to monitor bandwidth use, protocol distribution, network errors, network names, packet data, pair statistics and more. You can even monitor the Web sites that users visit or set alarms and triggers to warn of impending problems.

If all this weren’t enough, you can also purchase an expert extension that does packet tracing. The expert extension can monitor packet traffic over a period time and point out potential problems. With the full observer suite, you also get an SNMP console, an RMON console and the Web Extension. The Web Extension allows the data to be output to a Web page that can be used as “mission control”-style monitoring page.

What does it take to run this great network-monitoring tool? Observer runs on Windows 95, 98, NT 4.0 or 2000 operating systems. These operating systems will need to be installed on a machine that is at least a Pentium 400MHz (600MHz recommended). My experience showed that even a beefy Pentium III 600MHz machine with 256MB RAM may occasionally “thrash” under the weight of Observer’s data collection, depending of course on your network traffic. Therefore, you’ll want to pick out choice machines to run the console and probes. High video resolution (suggested 1024x768/ recommended 1280x1024) is also needed to display the bulky all-in-one Observer console.

Observer 7.1
The Observer Console provides an easy-to-manage centralized interface. From the console, all network monitoring tools can be started with a click. (Click image to view larger version.)

Overall my experience with Observer was extremely positive. Network Instruments has done a masterful job with Observer 7.1. This product combines a simple-to-navigate console with a robust network monitoring toolset. The installation process is simple, the documentation is thorough, and the interface is attractive as well as functional. The tools included with Observer are enough to monitor the smallest or the largest networks.

About the Author

Robert Pfeiffer, MCSE, MCT, works closely with Windows NT and Win2K. Implementing Win2K in the enterprise is currently one of Rob's major undertakings, and he enjoys showing others how to take advantage of Windows networking technologies. He also occasionally delves into development work using Visual Basic.

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