View your network's inner workings

Is accessing your company's SQL server database slow? Are you wondering why? Using Network General's NetXRay 3.0, you can track down the cause of your network problem.

Monitoring network traffic is an important task for systems administrators. Network activity is a major performance bottleneck at many installations and has a dramatic effect on your company's computing operations. A malfunctioning network is just as bad as having a file server go down — if users can't get to their data, your network is useless.

NetXRay can help you examine your network traffic and identify bottlenecks and potential problems. The software lets you capture data on your network's performance and specific data on the packets that are passing across your network. The product supports Ethernet, Token Ring, 100-VG Any LAN, and Virtual LAN (VLAN) networks running a host of network communication protocols, including IP, IPX, and AppleTalk.

NetXRay is available in two configurations. I tested the basic version, which runs on a single machine. NetXRay also is available in a distributed version, which consists of two components: a client component (the console) and a server component (the monitor or probe). You need to install the client monitoring program on every network segment you want to monitor and the server console program on only one machine. You use the server console program to attach to one or more network monitoring sites to collect packet data and statistics. Depending on the license you purchase, you can monitor your local network segment using a combined client/server machine (I used this configuration in my testing). This flexibility is a plus for large networks where you might want to monitor only certain portions of your network.

My installation of NetXRay went very smoothly. For my monitoring station, I used a 133MHz Pentium with 32MB of RAM running NT Workstation 4.0. After I provided an installation directory and registration information, I spent the next 5 minutes feeding my system five floppies. With installation complete, I rebooted and started using the software.

NetXRay's user interface, shown in Screen 1, impressed me. I'm accustomed to Systems Management Server (SMS) Network Monitor's bland textual interface, so I appreciated NetXRay's GUI. Three main windows appear when you launch the application: the Dashboard, which shows your current network traffic (with redline values that signal your network is overworked); the Capture window, which provides statistics on the contents of your capture buffer; and the Packet Generator, which you use for manually building and transmitting frames over your network.

Using the capture buffer, you can capture and review packets from individual stations, a group of stations, or all stations. You can limit data to specific frame types or specific protocols if you want to diagnose a problem related to one protocol but don't want to wade through megabytes of irrelevant packet data. To view packet data, you select the packet you want to view. NetXRay displays the components of that packet and highlights the hexadecimal data, identifying the selected packet component.

After you collect network statistics, you can generate reports that outline your network's activity. These reports can be invaluable in determining overall network problems. Also, you can define a series of alarms to alert you to specific network problems (such as a high broadcast count).

NetXRay 3.0 contains more performance and functional enhancements than previous versions. For example, the packet viewer component lets you filter traffic using a new visual filter. You can view protocol distribution statistics in media access control (MAC), IP, and IPX levels, with a summary in tabular, detail table, or chart views. The software contains enhanced Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) routing capabilities so you can automatically forward NetXRay alarm messages to an SNMP management console.

NetXRay's price puts it in line with other software-based network analyzers. However, NetXRay's price is significantly higher than SMS, which includes a network monitoring tool (albeit less sophisticated). Even with this price difference, I would buy NetXRay over SMS.

NetXRay 3.0
Contact: Network General 415-473-2000 or 800-764-3337
Web: http://www.ngc.com
Price: $1495
System Requirements: Windows NT or Windows 95, 133MHz Pentium (recommended), 32MB of RAM (recommended), 8MB of available hard disk space, Approved network interface adapter, NDIS 3.1 driver support