Load Balancer. Readers valued the network load balancing (NLB) features of Windows Server 2003 R2 more than those of its more specialized competitors. Windows 2003's NLB is primarily designed to distribute traffic to the members of an NLB cluster in which the members effectively offer their own self-contained service or instance of an application. An NLB cluster can have as many as 32 server types, each essentially running on its own. Users don't choose servers and alternate servers; rather, NLB assigns a new IP address, which any of the NLB cluster members can respond to. NLB distributes the incoming requests to one of its members through a distributed algorithm, and if a member of the NLB cluster becomes unavailable, NLB quickly responds and stops directing clients to that server. Windows 2003's NLB requires no shared disk subsystem.

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Network Analyzer. In your Windows network, do you often find yourself needing to sniff out network problems, dig up performance problems, hunt down noncompliant users, and shut down problematic devices before they result in downtime? You need to check out the landslide winner of this category, Sunbelt Software's Lan-Hound, a network analyzer that captures and decodes network traffic between systems and devices. The tool lets you view network communications in plain English rather than binary language. Viewing specific packet details shows exactly what's happening in your network, and the tool's Packet Capture and Packet Decode features help you isolate problems. LanHound also includes network-monitoring functionality, letting you view network statistics and trend information.

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Network Layout and Design Tool. Eking out a narrow victory in this category is Neon Software's LANsurveyor for Microsoft Office Visio 2003, which you can use to automatically create a precise map of your LAN—or your entire WAN—in Visio format. All you need to do is launch the product, verify your network settings, and enter your SNMP information. LANsurveyor for Visio then searches your network and displays your network diagram, which includes all the discovered nodes connected to the appropriate network segments, complete with IP addresses and Fully Qualified Domain Names (FQDNs). LANsurveyor for Visio is available exclusively in the Microsoft Office Visio 2003 Resource Kit for IT Professionals, which also includes Altima Technologies' NetZoom Stencils and Visual Network Design's Rackwise.

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NETWORK MANAGEMENT

Load Balancer
1st—Windows Server 2003 R2
http://www.microsoft.com
2nd—EMC PowerPath
http://www.emc.com
3rd—F5 Networks BIG-IP
http://www.f5.com

Network Analyzer
1st—Sunbelt Software LanHound
http://www.sunbelt-software.com
2nd—Ipswitch WhatsUp Professional 2006
http://www.whatsupprofessional.com
3rd—EMC Smarts Service Assurance Manager
http://www.emc.com

Network Layout and Design Tool
1st—Neon Software LANsurveyor for Visio
http://www.neon.com
2nd—HP OpenView Route Analytics Management System
http://www.hp.com
3rd—Microsoft Visio 2003
http://www.microsoft.com