A new Perspective on network management

After just over a month of allowing free downloads of its evaluation version, a network management application startup is about to put its product on the market.

PacketTrap Networks will begin charging Sept. 22 for its new flagship, Perspective, the successor to its pt360 Tool Suite. Perspective has “all the information an IT administrator needs to troubleshoot the network and the tools to fix the problem,” said Matt Bolton, the San Francisco company’s vice-president of products.

It has the same look and feel as pt360 but with a greater feature set. These include the ability to create a range of data collection policies from devices, and the ability to set performance baselines from which Perspective can learn a device’s behavior, thereby lowering the possibility of false alerts.

Bolton said Perspective is aimed at mid-sized companies with between 200 and “several thousand” devices. There’s also an MSP edition, which includes features that allow managed service providers to monitor any number of customer networks from a central site.

However, it is emerging into a crowded market, with offerings from giants ranging from Hewlett-Packard, IBM, CA, BMC to open source startups. But the company says one of Perspective’s aces in the hole is its speed, with claims it can discover routers, switches servers and applications on a network within 15 minutes. Another is that is supposed to be less cumbersome than offerings from its opponents.

“They did a good job of adding in some of the feature you’d normally pay a lot for out of the higher-priced products,” said Jim Frey, a senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates of Bolder, Colo. In particular he cited the drag and drop interface and the performance baseline capability.

PacketTrap may be able to take advantage of the popularity of pt360, he said, which has earned an audience thanks to a limited-feature free edition that serves as a good introduction to the paid versions.

On installation Perspective can discover the usual network hardware from Cisco Systems, Nortel, Juniper, Foundry and other manufactures, as well as servers, applications on servers and printers – anything with an IP address.

In Perspective’s dashboard, a manager can chose from some 50 “gadgets” to get an overview of a network, such as the 10 devices with the greatest latency, CPU usage, disk volume usage, network conversations and others. Clicking on each device shows all the information Perspective has gathered on it, which can be used for troubleshooting.

Through policies, administrators can decided how much data on each device is to be collected and how often, while baselining lets Perspective learn that what’s normal at 9 a.m. on Monday is different from 5 p.m. on a Friday. That allows abnormal behaviour to be automatically flagged through e-mail or SMS alerts to a staff member. Escalations can be set up to forward alerts to other staff members if the condition isn’t taken care of. The tool can also set up an action to start or stop a service if a network condition exists.

For those who want to take a quick look, there’s a free downloadable version of Perspective that has a 21-day limitation. Perspective, which runs on Windows Server 2003 and above, is sold direct from PacketTrap with pricing based on the number of devices. Prices range from US$1,995 for 100 devices to $16,795 for an unlimited number of devices. There are also extra-priced modules for linking to NetFlow, sFlow and JFlow monitoring applications, wireless and VoIP networks. For companies with remote locations there’s a Perspective remote agent which is also bought separately.

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