IP Metrics Upgrades NIC Tool

IP Metrics Software (www.ipmetrics.com) says its NIC Express 2.0 boosts the network performance of Windows NT and Web-enables management of network interface cards.

IP Metrics released NIC Express 2.0 last month, a little more than a year after the first version of NIC Express was released in May 1998.

Intel Corp. and 3Com Corp. offer NIC failover, load-balancing and management tools for their network cards, while NIC Express provides those functions for everybody else’s cards.

"We’re agnostic on a lot of fronts," says David Wilbanks, president of IP Metrics. The software allows network administrators to mix and match NICs made by different manufacturers and designed for different network speeds. NIC Express 2.0 supports Ethernet, ATM and Token Ring networks.

IP Metrics derives about 60 percent of its revenues from NIC or server partners, including D-Link Systems Inc., SMC Networks/Accton Technology Corp., Madge Networks, Syskonnect and Olicom. NIC Express supports cards made by Intel, 3Com, Adaptec Inc., Asante Technologies Inc., IBM Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., Proteon Inc. and Matrox Electronic Systems Ltd.

The software sits between Windows NT’s TCP/IP stack and the NIC drivers. The TCP/IP stack sees NIC Express as the only NIC driver installed on the server. To the individual NIC drivers, NIC Express looks like the TCP/IP stack. A network administrator may choose to put four NICs on a single NIC Express array or to split them up in two pairs.

A new load-balancing method that assigns traffic to different NICs on a connection-by-connection basis, rather than a packet-by-packet basis, helps NIC Express surpass the 275 Mbps/NT server ceiling it hit in the past. "A four-NIC array gives about 360 Mbps with our new version," Wilbanks says of a grouping of 100 Mbps adapters.

The new remote management console, Enterprise Manager, allows administrators to view or graph traffic statistics and monitor the status of any network adapter attached to a NIC Express array on any server in the enterprise. New reporting capabilities include 3-D and other real-time charts.

The software continues to perform failover-related load balancing. Detecting a bad card or connection, NIC Express will take the card out of the array, dynamically balance the load across the remaining cards, write to the NT Event Log and send an SNMP trap.

Failover is the primary reason customers buy NIC Express, Wilbanks says. Microsoft Cluster Service (MSCS) doesn’t recognize a NIC failure as a reason to fail from one server to another, but NIC Express is one way to minimize that problem. "A lot of customers use it with MSCS," Wilbanks says. Customers are also beginning to use the software to back up expensive Gigabit Ethernet cards with a 100 Mbps card that can keep the network alive until the faster connection is fixed, Wilbanks explains.

Mike Wolf, senior analyst at Cahners In-Stat (www.instat.com), agrees that failover is the most attractive NIC Express feature for enterprise customers.

"More and more mission-critical applications are being put on Pentium-based servers," Wolf says. "The one thing you don’t want to do is put all your business in the hands of one $50 NIC." Wolf also predicts more companies will turn to products like NIC Express to combine Fast Ethernet cards for higher network throughput, at least until the prices of Gigabit Ethernet cards come down.

The heterogeneous nature of the product is also a draw, Wolf says. "Basically what Mr. Wilbanks has done is allow the other companies that aren’t 3Com and Intel to have this kind of software." Still, for flawless integration, those who can afford Intel and 3Com may want to look at the single-vendor packages. "There’s always an advantage when you’re buying everything from one vendor," Wolf notes. "I would imagine there may be some hiccups getting every piece to work together in NIC Express."