Product Reviews

Network Traffic Under the Microsope

Get up close and personal with your network's activity with Lightspeed Systems' Total Traffic Control 4.0.

There are more than a few traffic monitoring and control, spam blocking, content filtering and firewall products on the market these days, but what about a single package that does it all? In this review, I evaluate one such product: Lightspeed Systems' Total Traffic Control 4.0.

TTC 4.0 is available in either a software-only form or hardware appliance. I received the software installed on a Dell 1U server running Windows 2000 Server. TTC 4.0 includes many features, and most administrators will probably find this package less expensive than buying separate products and attempting to integrate them.

Lightspeed Systems' Web site contains a message that rings so true:

Your network is being abused. Right now you don't know why, how much or by whom, but you know it is. And it's not just spam and porn that reduce productivity and threaten legal liabilities. It's the bandwidth-sapping (and often copyright infringing) downloads of MP3s and DVDs, excessive use of non-work related instant messaging or email, threatening messages, latency issues, overburdened applications, and more.

Although most of my recent travels have been to smaller customer networks and classrooms, I have seen a need for the monitoring and safeguards available in TTC. At one school where I teach, many students have loaded Kazaa and iMesh. I've had my own challenges recently with spam e-mail. Both can waste a lot of time and bandwidth.

Getting It Under Control
Setting up this system was a matter of booting to Windows and starting the TTC application. Once the application started, I was presented with a choice of creating a load balancing server, a bandwidth management server, a security and VPN server or a traffic reporting server. All of the servers can be run together. The hardware and software requirements are moderate by today's standards; Pentium III 1.0GHZ, 1GB RAM, 60MBs of disk space, two NICs, Windows 2000 Pro, Server or XP, SQL Server 2000, IIS 5.0 and .Net Framework 1.1. I chose the built-in example configuration for traffic reporting in promiscuous mode first, then I quickly moved on to the Spam Mail Blocker.

The network diagram allows you to configure it to match your network layout with building blocks and connections. With the Spam Mail Blocker, I was able to configure it to for white lists, black lists, real-time blackhole lists, adult-content screening, local learning mode and Bayesian analysis. If only I could leave this on my network forever and eliminate the unwanted spam!

LightSpeed Systems' Total Traffic Control 4.0
LightSpeed Systems' Total Traffic Control 4.0 offers a simple network diagram for configuring your monitoring plans. (Click image to view larger version.)

Monitoring
The network monitoring tools are plenty and provide for many comprehensive reports. For example, rather than simply reporting that traffic is TCP/IP and NetBIOS, it reports a break down by TCP, UDP, ICMP port numbers, and shows traffic percentages for SMTP, HTTP, FTP.

TTC includes two Web servers with the software, one for management through the out-of-band interface and one for reports. The reports Web service provides selected reports pulled from the SQL database, which can be incorporated into other applications.

There are many reports available to choose from: total incoming or outgoing traffic, traffic by internal IP address, traffic by protocol and internal IP address, traffic by protocol and external IP address, top 50 incoming traffic by destination MAC address, top 50 outgoing traffic by source MAC address, applications and IP address, top file-sharing downloads, top file-sharing uploads, top 100 external URLs hit, top 100 internal URLs hit, e-mail senders/receivers, and host-to-host conversations.

Under Control
Lightspeed Systems' Total Traffic Control 4.0 includes plenty of features in a single package but can be complicated to configure and overwhelming at first glance. TTC includes excellent bandwidth control and traffic control capabilities with many report types which allows for careful monitoring of the network in almost any scenario, from educational institution to ISP to corporate site.

This product carries a hefty price tag at $6,995, but for all that's included, can you afford not to have it?

About the Author

Andy Barkl, MCT/MCITP/MCSA, A+, Network+, Security+, CCNA has been studying technology for 30 years. Of the last 15 years, he has spent much of his time parting the knowledge and experience he has gained through IT exams, over 300, to help others be prepared and successful. He teaches classes in Phoenix, Ariz. where he has lived most of his life. He can be reached by e-mail at andy.barkl@gmail.com.

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