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The virtual NETWORK as LEARNING TOOL

The virtual NETWORK as LEARNING TOOL

Suppose your network-modelling and simulation tool has indicated that deploying your SQL server application to 1000 users across your enterprise will saturate your WAN links and overload your routers during peak hours. Perhaps you can't solve the problem now, but wouldn't it be great if you could at least prepare your help-desk staff for the types of problems the simulation tool predicted? Network Tools' Virtual Agent can help you do just that.

Virtual Agent functions as a "virtual network", simulating the information and the traps of any Management Information Base-2 (MIB-2) network device. The tool essentially allows you to simulate on a virtual network a specific problem that your modelling tool has warned you about, which you can then use as learning device for your help-desk staff.

The tool allows you to re-create your routers and WAN links and simulate the events that those devices would typically see on your network. Let's say, for example, that your modelling tool says that for two hours late in the day WAN-link utilisation will increase to nearly 80 per cent, which you know will cause your routers on each end to send SNMP warnings to your network-management stations. Virtual Agent can generate those messages as if they were coming from your routers and send them to the management stations without adding traffic to your network.

The simulation of network devices for testing purposes is a cool concept, and, relatively speaking, the idea is well- implemented in Virtual Network. The product re-creates your MIB-2 and enterprise MIB devices. Dump files are created and then used by the Virtual Agent; once you load these dump files, you can simulate any agent or device on your network.

These virtual devices can actually run SNMP, PING, and Address Resolution Protocol queries from a network-management station as if the devices really existed. Using Virtual Agent's Scenario Manager, you create the scenarios that your network can expect to encounter once an application is deployed, such as an overloaded network, WAN utilisation spikes, and error packets. Such scenarios can be written and used for training.

But Virtual Agent is by no means a simple drag-and-drop software product. You need a great deal of networking and MIB knowledge in order to simulate and set up your virtual network. In fact, the product's usability could be a significant hindrance to its widespread use. For example, using Scenario Manager requires you to learn a new scripting language called Scenario Behaviour Language, which is less than intuitive. Also, its Windows Explorer-like user interface leaves much to be desired.

Virtual Agent's traditional markets have been in sales, demonstrations, training activities, and device development. But because it allows you to respond swiftly and correctly to the problems that inevitably arise when managing an enterprise, you'll find it helpful for your own help desk. Virtual Agent costs $US9995 and runs on Windows 95.

Network Tools, in San Jose, California, can be reached at +1 (408) 571-2600 or www.networktools.com/.


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