One of the simplest physics concepts to swallow is that of entropy. Entropy is a level of randomness, or disorder, within a system. Taking ample poetic license, network administrators can contextually appreciate the law that entropy always increases in an active system. Admins see this process in action every day as we carry out repairs and maintenance on running infrastructures. In addition, a corollary of the law of entropy is that a system or device will manage to break itself if you don’t break it first. Therefore, it can’t hurt to plan for this eventuality. Dartware helps restore some order to the IT universe with its InterMapper network monitoring software.

InterMapper’s initial installation is brief and uneventful, only prompting the user for a license key (if you forego the demo and jump right in). Network gurus from all backgrounds will be happy to know that the product includes support for most platforms, including Windows 2000 Server or later, OS X, Solaris, and several major Linux distributions, including Red Hat, SUSE, and Debian. InterMapper is Java-based, which will help ensure that this ubiquity perseveres. Installation requires a Java Virtual Machine (JVM), which is freely and widely available. Other minor requirements include 512MB of RAM, 50MB of disk space for the program, and 1GB of space for historical data storage and analysis.

After you complete the licensing steps, InterMapper fires up with an initial demo network map that uses several of the product’s more interesting features. (Maps are the primary vehicle InterMapper uses to convey information.) InterMapper’s maps can provide visual context through the use of various backgrounds, whether a scanned diagram drawn on a paper napkin or a satellite image downloaded from Google Maps. These backgrounds make it easy to move your network icons around, which provides additional value if you use an actual map for the background (as in Figure 1) and plot devices by their positional coordinates.

Excellent icon sets, flashing colors, and device info displays are standard network monitoring software features—Dartware goes further, with manual arrangement of icons to help you visualize grouping and hierarchy, as well as numerous options for forced arrangement by topology (e.g., star, bus, ring, and cell—or “organic”—layouts). These features can be applied to subsets of devices to allow for the desired combination of techniques. In addition, Dartware maintains an excellent gallery of screenshots from which users can get inspiration for their own maps.

InterMapper 5.2

PROS: Vast multitudes of probe types; visual interface is the primary display, rather than a dashboard panel; great SNMP/NetFlow/sFlow/jFlow support
CONS: Low-end pricing is fairly high per device; scanning operations would benefit from more detail
RATING: 4.5 out of 5
PRICE: $500 for 25 devices (doesn’t include InterMapper Flows); $3400 for 500 devices; additional packages available
RECOMMENDATION: Although small operations can get by with more basic monitoring, InterMapper’s features are well suited for medium to large organizations, especially those spanning considerable geographical area.

CONTACT: Dartware • 877-276-6903 • www.intermapper.com

InterMapper Flows is a purchased add-on that takes InterMapper’s visualization aspect to another level by analyzing NetFlow, sFlow, and jFlow data aggregated from higher-end routers and managed switches. This data gives you a statistical view of your network traffic, akin to ntop.

The product does have some minor flaws. For example, it lacks a unified interface for starting or stopping network scans; some scans (or “reprobes”) can occur with little or no indication when they start or stop. In addition, InterMapper’s scan display could be more detailed—for example, sometimes the product begins a scan in the link-local address range due to an unconfigured interface, which can cause an exhaustive scan if you aren’t paying attention.

InterMapper has the basic displays that other packages include, but the product adds visual features and centers around them. The software also works on a wide variety of platforms and has a small arsenal of sensors (including WMI-based probes in InterMapper 5.2). The InterMapper Flows add-on extends the product’s range of application by adding NetFlow, sFlow, and jFlow compatibility. InterMapper stands alone in its unique, engaging presentation of the data we’ve all come to know and loathe.