Performance and availability are key issues in any network environment. So naturally, I'm willing to embrace anything that makes my servers run faster. That's why I chose IP Metrics Software's NIC Express 1.1 as my favorite software package. The software adds fault tolerance and performance enhancements to any Windows NT system at an affordable price. In a nutshell, the product can handle automatic network adapter failover, and it increases performance up to 75 percent.

A slick feature of NIC Express is its ability to work with standard network cards; it doesn't require proprietary hardware. The product performs load balancing by equally spreading the load across multiple NICs, so the bandwidth increase is symmetrical with the number of NICs in use. To make management easier, the product places all the NICs in an array and presents the array to NT as one network interface with one network address.

NIC Express supports IP, AppleTalk, IPX, and NetBEUI on Ethernet networks, and IP Metrics Software also provides a Token-Ring version. The product supports Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) and writes events to the NT event log. I'm a big Alpha fan, so I was happy to learn that this product is available for the Alpha platform.

To test NIC Express, I used NT Server 4.0 on a 200MHz Pentium with 128MB of RAM, two 100MB network cards, and TCP/IP. For the drivers to complete their jobs, the product needs to install itself between the NIC drivers and the network protocol stack. To install NIC Express, I used the Network applet from Control Panel and added the software as I'd add any other network protocol.

The installation process presents a dialog box for you to define a name for the NIC array and choose which NICs will become part of the defined array. After I defined the array and the participating NICs, I assigned the array an IP address and other TCP/IP parameters. These are the same steps you take when you install any network card. After I defined and addressed the array, a quick reboot activated the NIC Express driver.

After the system booted, I tested the newly installed NIC array with a simple Ping command to the assigned IP address. NIC Express automatically removes failed NICs from the array. When I viewed the NIC array status, it required me to reopen the Network applet and view the Properties page. This procedure displayed green and red icons showing me the active and inactive NICs.

To test the NIC failover system, I repeatedly unplugged the NIC from my Ethernet switch, which caused the software to deactivate the unplugged NIC. NIC Express permanently deactivates a NIC from the array when an adapter fails more than three times in an hour. Once the software deactivates a NIC, the administrator must manually reactivate it after correcting the problem.

For a performance check, I copied my entire Web site back and forth between two servers. The Web site (http://www.ntsecurity.net) consists of about 500 Web pages and more than 280MB of data. Replicating the data is a routine task on my network, and NIC Express increases the copy speed by at least 70 percenta significant increase. The performance boost leads to faster replication speeds.

NIC Express is an excellent addition to NT systems, especially for servers and power-users' workstations. I highly recommend the product.

NIC Express 1.1
Contact: IP Metrics Software * 817-358-1007
Web: http://www.ipmetrics.com