Design networks and simulate traffic

Systems administrators used to design their networks on napkins or scraps of paper. These designs seemed viable; however, after buying and configuring the equipment, systems administrators often found design flaws that weren't apparent on the napkin. NetCracker Designer 2.0 from NetCracker Technology lets you build network drawings, simulate what-if scenarios, and create up-to-date hardware inventories before you spend crucial funds.

To test the software, I inserted NetCracker Designer's CD-ROM in a 333MHz Pentium processor system with 256MB of RAM and a 4.3GB hard disk. I selected the installation wizard's Typical installation, and the program installed in less than 5 minutes. I didn't need to reboot the system, so I selected NetCracker Designer 2.0 from the Start menu and typed in the 36-character license key. The software displayed its main screen, which contains three panes: The Browser pane lists more than 10,000 vendor-specific shapes; the Images pane provides a detailed image of the item you select in the Browser pane; the Project pane is where you drag the images to in order to build your network design.

To create a basic network diagram, I clicked New in the File menu and double-clicked LAN Workstations in the Browser pane. I selected and dragged two generic workstations from the Images pane to the Project pane, double-clicked LAN Adapters in the Browser pane, then double-clicked Ethernet and Generic Devices. I selected and dragged a generic Ethernet card from the Images pane, and dropped the image on one of the workstations in the Project pane. To add a switch between Workstation 1 and Workstation 2, I returned to the Browser pane and double-clicked Switches. I dragged the generic switch from the Images pane and dropped it between the workstations in the Project pane.

To link the workstations, I clicked the Set Link icon, clicked Workstation 1, and clicked the switch, which opened the Link Assistant dialog box. I clicked Link, Close to accept the default settings. To quickly link Workstation 2, I clicked the switch, then pressed Shift while clicking Workstation 2.

I generated traffic between the two workstations by clicking the Set Traffic icon. I clicked Workstation 1, then Workstation 2. The Profiles list popped up, providing traffic profiles for simulations of user and company scenarios, and I selected Small Office. To generate traffic from Workstation 2 to Workstation 1, I clicked the Set Traffic icon, then clicked Workstation 2 and Workstation 1. I clicked the Start icon, and the software animated traffic between Workstation 1 and Workstation 2, as Screen 1 shows.

Some of the software's features are entertaining (e.g., the Say Info feature, which provides an audio description of a link, packet, or device), but they're useful only for a presentation—not for serious design work. I appreciated the Tool menu's Reports option, which lets you access 18 reports (e.g., device utilization) that you can use for long-term network monitoring or cost-justification documentation.

NetCracker Designer simplifies creating a viable network design. However, the software lacks an autodiscovery tool, which automatically searches your network for systems and peripherals and stores this information in a database. Without this feature, you have to physically research each piece of hardware you want to include in your network design, note the necessary configuration information, and manually enter this information into NetCracker Designer as you create a network. Other network-design products, such as Visio Enterprise 5.0, include autodiscovery functionality.

If cost isn't a consideration and you need a tool that lets you design a network from the ground up and simulate what-if scenarios, NetCracker Designer is the tool for you. However, if you want a network-design tool that includes autodiscovery tools and won't break your budget, check out Visio Enterprise 5.0, which costs half as much as NetCracker Designer.

NetCracker Designer 2.0
Contact: NetCracker Technology * 781-736-0860
Web: http://www.netcracker.com
Price: $1995
System Requirements: 133MHz Pentium processor or better, Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 9x, 24MB of RAM, 50MB of hard disk space, SVGA with 800 * 600 resolution or better