Network Associates' (NAI) latest Windows-based Distributed Sniffer System (DSS) is more attractive and easier to use than many of its protocol-analysis rivals.
This release implements a truly distributed architecture, a protocol analyser with decodes for more than 300 protocols, and Rmon 2 capabilities to ease network administration and trouble- shooting. DSS got more than a facelift, but it shows signs of age by excluding extensive monitoring tools for use in a fully switched network environment.
Distributed Sniffer System/ RMON Pro 2.0 gets its new looks and ease-of-use from Sniffer Pro: Console, and its components look exactly like Sniffer Pro 98 1.5.
However, DSS' unique strength is its distributed network software agents. These Sniffer Agents collect data from disparate network segments and feed the data back to the central console.
I found this architecture extremely robust for a flat network. However, DSS and its competitors face challenges when providing network-troubleshooting data in a fully switched environment.
Although other solutions offer similar functionality, NAI's DSS is ahead of the pack regarding fully functional, comprehensive, and easy-to-use software. A key to its superiority is DSS' support for 10/100 full duplex Ethernet, token ring, and WAN connections. NAI sells a serial interface adapter card for V.35 WAN connections and a High-Speed Serial Interface module.
I installed and ran the DSS system on my switched and my flat network without a hitch. Although NAI recommends running the agent on a Windows NT box, I had no problem running both the console and agent on Windows 95.
When running on a concentrator, DSS was easily able to show me real-time or captured IP and IPX traffic on my network. However, when it came to monitoring a Cisco Catalyst 5500, I had to go through the steps of mirroring the specific port that I wanted to monitor.
As part of its Total Network Visibility initiative, NAI has added a Rmon 2 probe to DSS, but I didn't get to test it extensively.
Having used Sniffer Basic and NetX-Ray, I was familiar with the extensive and well laid out utilisation and error statistics that DSS provides for individual nodes on the network.
Those not familiar with the Sniffer console should have no problem getting up to speed with DSS' automobile-like dashboard.
The DSS Agents also save real-time network statistics - host table, matrix table, and protocol distribution - to a Microsoft Access file.
One of my favourite console options is Expert view.
Errors and error details are laid out in OSI Layer format, with detailed help for troubleshooting network problems found by the Expert. Along with the Sniffer Agent, which gathers information for the console, the SniffView agent gathers Rmon statistics from Rmon-capable devices.
Although this version has many improvements, I was troubled that support for switched networks wasn't included in this release.
Although I could use the DSS agents to monitor console ports or mirror switched ports on which critical servers reside, I didn't get as clear a picture of overall network-traffic health without it. However, NAI is expected to deliver a switched-port roving agent for DSS, in December.
The Bottom Line
Distributed Sniffer System/RMON Pro 2.0
Administrators will be pleased with this graphical version of DSS, which provides monitoring tools and expert analysis of network traffic. However, support for switched networks is still in the works.
Pros: Simple console interface; Expert mode eases troubleshooting; presents seven-layer decodes on more than 300 protocols; supports various topologies.
Cons: Switched network agent not yet available.
Platforms: Agent: Windows NT 4.0; Console: Windows 95, Windows 98, NT 4.0.
Price: Available on application.
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