Network design and testing

When choosing a network design tool, I have two requirements: The tool must be as easy to use as any mass market diagramming tool, and it must have enough juice to accurately represent my real network. Most network design tools do one or the other very well, but when I combine both criteria, the tools fall short. That's why I was pleasantly surprised with ImageNet's Computer Aided Network Engineering (CANE) 2.0.

CANE is a Windows NT or Windows 95 application that helps network administrators design, test, and maintain networks. It ships on one CD-ROM and requires roughly 100MB of disk space, but you can run some components directly off the CD-ROM. Installation is straightforward, using the InstallShield interface, but it requires Administrator-level privileges to run (CANE installs object-oriented database components, which is the reason for this requirement).

CANE's user interface (UI) closely resembles Visio (for my review of Visio, see "Visio Professional 4.5," August 1997) right down to the ease-of-use. Pop-up menus are context-sensitive, so the menu options change depending on which object you are clicking on. As you can see in Screen 1, the UI consists of two main portions: the drawing window and the device library.

CANE includes support for nearly every NIC, router, hub, chassis, and software package on the market. Although most of these templates seem like cardboard cutouts of a generic device or software package, it's still nice to have an accurate representation of your network environment. You can manually add more exotic devices if necessary.

To test CANE's analysis capabilities, I built a three-floor model with multiple PCs, hubs, and servers, and a T3 connection to a server in another city. Creating the diagram was simply a matter of dragging the appropriate devices from the library bar. For this fictional network, I used industry standard 3Com hardware and a mix of Novell and NT software on the computers.

While building the diagram, I intentionally severed a link between two computers. CANE caught the error immediately, and also notified me that I had forgotten to put a NIC in one of the client computers. This identification let me fix the problems before I deployed the network.

Setting up Internet connectivity for the network was easy. I plugged in the class B IP address and assigned it to a router. After assigning the standard subnet mask of 255.255.255.0, CANE broke down the class B address and assigned individual IP addresses to each client on the network. CANE also generated a host table for the servers. If you have ever tried to connect an entire network to the Internet, you can appreciate the time that this type of automation saves you.

One of CANE's interesting features is its network activity simulator, which lets you gauge performance based on your network design. Take a WAN with multiple frame relay and T1 connections, for example. Once you have the diagramming laid out, you can feed the expected traffic for each line into the program and run the simulator. The simulator then interprets the data and displays each line's congestion level in a bar graph, letting you know which connections require upgrading and which require downgrading or elimination.

Similarly, you can use the simulation feature to test latency between machines. CANE can send simulated Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) packets to other computers on the test network, reporting the amount of time used to return a response. Although this simulation eliminates all network traffic and other factors from the equation, giving you a best-case scenario, it is an accurate representation of your network performance.

Finally, CANE includes several bonuses. The LAN Times Encyclopedia of Networking and a network buyer's guide that incorporates data from Network World's Buyer's Guide and lab reports, are included in a PDF file, which simplifies cross-referencing information for potential hardware purchases. CANE also ships with an excellent manual with a tutorial section, which helps you get up to speed with the program.

With these powerful features, CANE has earned a prime spot on my utility belt. Its performance is swift and its hardware requirements are less daunting than those of most full-blown CAD applications, which makes the software a good fit for any system that can run NT.

CANE 2.0
Contact: ImageNet * 408-863-7260 or 800-665-2263
Web: http://www.imagenet-cane.com
Price: Starts at $9995