Another use for your favorite gadget

Portable computers can be valuable network troubleshooting tools. However, a laptop—though full-featured—might be impractically large for troubleshooting in an organization that has multiple networks in multiple locations. Such is the situation in the Windows 2000 Magazine Lab.

The Lab uses several networks and subnets for product testing and several other networks for Lab operations. We often need to troubleshoot these networks from various locations in the Lab.

I recently tested the practicality of using my Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC as a troubleshooting tool. Using an Ethernet adapter that plugs into the device's optional expansion pack, I easily connected to a hub in our networks' demilitarized zone (DMZ). I then used Ruksun Software Technologies' Telnet Force and Net Force programs (for Windows CE—based mobile computing devices) to perform several network troubleshooting tasks.

Telnet Force is a Telnet client that lets you see the low-level messages that can help you diagnose TCP servers (e.g., Web servers, email servers). You can also use Telnet Force to administer devices such as firewalls, hardware routers, and Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems. Although Telnet Force is a helpful tool, a Pocket PC's small screen and virtual keyboard can make diagnostic work inconvenient. For involved Telnet tasks, a larger Handheld PC, such as Hewlett-Packard's (HP's) Jornada 720, might be more practical.

Net Force provides several network troubleshooting tools, including a subnet calculator, Ping, DNS lookup, and a Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) server and client. Although these tools require less input and produce less output than Telnet does, the Pocket PC's small screen still limits the extent to which you'll want to use Net Force on a such a device.

One of my troubleshooting tasks involved connecting a router to a TFTP server. This process can be complicated because the server needs to be on the same network segment as the router yet outside the firewall. The Pocket PC's portability makes it an ideal TFTP server. I used Net Force's TFTP server and Telnet Force's Telnet client to save our Cisco Systems ISDN router's configuration to a file on my Pocket PC. I then used my Pocket PC to change the file and upload the modified file to the router.

You can use your Pocket PC's Pocket Internet Explorer (PIE) to access your servers' and firewalls' Web-based administration interfaces. However, the Pocket PC requires a third-party Java Virtual Machine (JVM), such as Insignia Solutions' Jeode platform, to accommodate interfaces that use Java applets. Web-based interfaces that don't use Java applets might not work well with PIE; my Pocket PC displayed only one frame of our firewall's administration interface.

The Pocket PC's potential is great. If you often perform simple troubleshooting tasks (e.g., transferring files, pinging network systems) from locations other than your office, take a look at Pocket PCs and the troubleshooting software available for them. Even if you don't currently need a portable network-troubleshooting device, I recommend watching the market for new Pocket PC—based troubleshooting tools. I predict that these devices will grow in popularity and usefulness.