Agilent Monitors Bandwidth for Optimal Use
As service level agreements (SLAs) gain popularity as a means of evaluating the performance of an IT department, managers may find that they need methods for creating realistic performance levels and keeping tabs on current levels of performance.
Tools exist for monitor machine performance and some traffic within the LAN or WAN, but few tools are available to see what goes on beyond the network, within the bandwidth cloud.
Agilent Technologies Corp. (www.agilent.com) introduced its NetMetrix OC-12 Probe hardware to monitor bandwidth on the Optical Carrier-12 (OC-12) standard. Coupled with Agilent’s NetMetrix Performance Center, Windows NT users can monitor the use of bandwidth on optical network connections.
The solution adds ATM and optical functionality to Agilent’s suite of remote monitoring (RMON) products. ATM has lagged in adoption as a result of pricey hardware and difficult integration with legacy networks, but Anita Manwani, general manager of Agilent's NetMetrix division, believes ATM’s time has come. "It’s a technology that’s been here for five years, and we feel it’s a mature technology," she says.
ATM offers a number of advantages to conventional types of traffic. First, it has built in quality of service (QoS) and load balancing features that make it ideal for networks carrying multimedia and other types of data dependent on a reliable, coherent stream. For example, an ATM network can dedicate bandwidth for video conferencing, eliminating the dropped packets that result in poor or frustrating communications. When the application is latent, however, the reserved bandwidth is open to all types of traffic.
"If you’re doing voice over IP or videoconferencing, your best bet is ATM," advises Jasmine Noel, an analyst at DH Brown Associates Inc. (http://dhbrown.com). She says that while ATM has been confined to bandwidth carriers, it is rapidly gaining popularity with traditional enterprises. "It’s a nice technology; you can do voice and data just as well," she says, suggesting that ATM may gain importance in the growing communications convergence.
Combining bandwidth monitoring and management for ATM services can extend the value of the QoS and load balancing features by allowing human intervention. Agilent’s Performance Center also offers algorithms for trending and extrapolating current data for estimating the load of new applications.
For example, if a department wants to add videoconferencing services to its SLA, the manager can use the trending tools to see if the network can handle the additional bandwidth or what devices or services need to be added. "It’s about maximizing the return on opportunity," Manwani says.
Dennis Drogseth, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates (www.enterprisemanagement.com), says this type of monitoring is critical in creating SLAs. With trending and estimation, "You’re not taking responsibility for undefined requirements," he says. Managers need to get a sense of what will happen in the future, not what has worked in the past. "Proactive is the key word here," he says.
Agilent already offers devices for monitoring other standards of network traffic, such as T1, T3, and 56 K modem traffic. The addition of optical and ATM fleshes out the product line of data collectors. Manwani is quick to point out that the new hardware is fairly secondary to NetMetrix’s functionality: "The hardware is primarily a data collecting tool."
The companion software, the Performance Management suite, offers a variety of tools for managing bandwidth. Service Simulator helps users plan for future needs. Performance Center is a threshold-based tool for alerting users when traffic is reaching unstable levels. Finally, Billing Center offers a dollars and cents view of bandwidth use.
Billing Center may be of particular interest to managers interested in creating SLAs and developing proposals for upgrades. The real money projections Business Center offers nontechnical administrators a real world indication of what the network requires.
Agilent, which is a unit of Hewlett-Packard Corp. (HP, www.hp.com), made integration with HP’s OpenView monitoring software a top priority when they developed the software. Performance Management and OpenView share a similar interface, and an OpenView window can show information from Performance Management, offering a single view for machine and bandwidth performance.
While OpenView is a popular tool for managing heterogeneous networks, Manwani explains that "NT was not an afterthought." Indeed, Agilent developed and released the NT and Windows 2000 versions of the software before a Unix version.