A LAN is like an ocean. The surface view is beautiful and serene, but the deeper you get, the stranger the scene becomes. In fact, getting a good perspective on what's happening inside your LAN is like looking out of a submarine--you frequently discover new and often unimaginable sights. If you have a yearning to explore possibly uncharted depths of your network, dive into Cinco Network's NetXRay network monitoring software.
But be warned: Network monitoring software is not for the faint hearted. When you look at traffic on a LAN, you are privy to the hidden and seemingly incomprehensible conversations that occur between interconnected computers. If you aren't familiar with the inner workings of protocol suites such as TCP/IP, Internet Packet eXchange (IPX)/Sequenced Packet eXchange (SPX), and NetBIOS, you can quickly get lost. If you are comfortable with the whispered words in which computers talk to one another, you will readily understand and appreciate the value of NetXRay.
NetXRay to the Rescue
NetXRay is a network monitor and testing program that lets you observe your network's overall utilization, capture and view packets (messages) transmitted over your LAN, and generate test messages so you can troubleshoot problem areas. NetXRay requires an Intel-based Windows NT Workstation or NT Server system with a 10Mbit-per-second (Mbps) Ethernet, 100Mbps Ethernet, or Token-Ring adapter. A Network Device Interface Specification (NDIS) version 3.1 (32-bit) driver must service the network adapter. If you run a Token-Ring network, the adapter must support "promiscuous mode" operation, which rules out any Token-Ring adapter based on the IBM Tropic chip set. In contrast, Ethernet adapters support promiscuous mode.
Installing NetXRay is relatively straightforward. First, a simple setup utility lets you install the main product. You have to reboot your system during this installation phase. After the reboot, you must access the Network option in the Control Panel to add the NetXRay driver. This driver intercepts traffic from the network adapter driver and passes it to the main NetXRay software for study and evaluation. The driver also passes the same traffic to the usual NT network services, so you don't lose network functionality when you run NetXRay. Although NT will prompt you to reboot after you install the NetXRay driver, you don't have to; NetXRay is immediately useable after you install the driver.
NetXRay resembles Novell's highly successful LANalyzer network monitor. NetXRay offers a dashboard GUI with gauges that show LAN utilization and packet capturing information. Screen 1 shows the NetXRay utilization and capture gauges. If you want additional information, you can click on a Detail tab and get a statistical breakdown of the gauge indicators. If you run NetXRay on an ongoing basis, the gauge format provides the best at-a-glance view of network activity.
NetXRay can also be more than a passive monitor. You can configure it to sound an alarm if network utilization exceeds a certain percentage or if certain types of network errors cross the threshold values you set up.
The power of NetXRay is its ability to capture and view packets traveling through your LAN. You can capture all the traffic that the system running the software sees, you can filter it according to protocol type (e.g., IPX/SPX or TCP/IP), or you can home in on traffic between specific systems. Once you capture some traffic, you can view the contents of the captured packets. As you see in Screen 2, NetXRay tells you which protocol is in use, the type of message with respect to that protocol (e.g., a name broadcast, a service request, or a data message), and the contents of the packet. Note that this capability makes NetXRay somewhat dangerous--a lot of information you transmit over LANs isn't encrypted. So when you start capturing that information, you splay your corporate data open for view like a frog on a dissecting board. Bottom line: Don't put NetXRay on every desktop system.
NetXRay's monitoring and capturing capabilities make it a valuable tool for any network analyst or manager. But NetXRay doesn't stop there. It provides two more capabilities of interest to the hard-core network crowd: First, it can generate "test" packets that can be benign test (no-op) messages or replayed captured packets. Second, NetXRay can decode Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) Management Information Base (MIB) information, so you can use the product to help set up and debug a large-scale network management system, such as HP's OpenView or IBM's NetView.
The documentation and online help that come with NetXRay are adequate, if you're familiar with all the protocols NetXRay can handle. At present, NetXRay can recognize IPX/SPX, TCP/IP, NetBIOS, AppleTalk, DECnet, SNA, and Banyan traffic.
When you deploy NetXRay in any production system (workstation or server), be aware that NetXRay consumes its fair share of CPU resources. You will definitely notice an operational difference when NetXRay is running. Still, this resource consumption is a small price to pay to uncover the secrets hidden under the surface of your LAN.
System Requirements: NT Workstation or NT Server system with 10Mbps Ethernet, 100Mbps Ethernet, or Token-Ring adapter|
Cinco Networks * 800-671-9272 or 770-671-9272