Agilent readies all-in-one network testing tool

Seeking to combine both cable and application testing functionality in one handheld device, Agilent Technologies Inc. on Nov. 19 announced a new solution that the company is billing as an all-in-one testing tool for enterprise users.

The new FrameScope 350 device builds upon Agilent’s WireScope 350 cable testing and troubleshooting solution, adding IP (Internet Protocol) testing features that let network operators verify not only the integrity of the cabling infrastructure, but also the optimization of network performance.

The new network performance analyser determines whether key resources, such as file servers, DNS (Domain Name System) servers, and Web servers, are not only present but also performing optimally, said Chuck Ganimian, product manager of the WireScope family.

“If you’re dealing with an NT file server, you can use [FrameScope] to do a full login, read, write, and delete files, and get metrics,” Ganimian said. “It’s not so much designed to solve the problem of end users [being unable to] get to services, but rather, why is the performance not where it should be? This gives them one tool to do all their network and physical layer troubleshooting.”

Moreover, the FrameScope also comes with ping, trace route, and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) querying features. An automated network discovery function actively queries the network for resources and reports back on servers, routers, and remote stations. Those features were added to the product in an attempt to provide mobile testers with sufficient functionality, according to Ganimian.

“If you’re going to give IT guys a box to carry around to do troubleshooting, it’s got to have all of the basics,” he explained.

Another feature lets network administrators save station lists for particular locations in removable Flash memory, enabling quick auto discovery when the administrator visits a branch office.

FrameScope could be particularly attractive to companies suffering from budget cutbacks, which could prevent them from investing in physical layer monitoring tools, Ganimian said.

Although the tool is aimed mostly at enterprise users, service providers could also use FrameScope to streamline service provisioning. Retail outlets could also profit, according to Ganimian.

“Places like WalMart or Home Depot go out and run all the cabling, so every register is now a network station,” he said. “For them to have one tool to verify everything, including WAN links, is something they’ve been asking for for a long time.”

Agilent’s play is an attempt to capture a slice of the network management market, especially in the upper levels of corporate IT departments, according to Paul Bugala, an analyst at the IDC research firm in Framingham, Mass.

“For a long time, testing has been the domain of ‘cable jockeys’ and people who aren’t in the higher echelons of IT investment,” Bugala said. “What Agilent is trying to do is up the ante in their sales opportunities by adding network functionality.”

Moreover, tight capital budgets are forcing many companies to cut back on network monitoring investments, creating further opportunities for an all-in-one device such as the WireScope, Bugala said.

“There’s a consolidation among the spheres of influence within enterprise management spending,” he noted. “People at a higher level in the organization are validating the purchase orders that people issue, so products need to reach out of their own domains. If you want to buy a new wire tester, that’s not going to rise to the level of importance as buying a product that will let you not only test your cables but also do some network diagnosis. You can deal with fewer vendors and spend less money.”

But Bugala stopped short of fully endorsing the device’s claims to all-in-one functionality, arguing that network information must be available between network management applications in order to benefit the organization as a whole.

“[The FrameScope] has interfaces that let you do some network diagnostics and move out of the simple domain of physical layer management. The key thing, though, is creating the interfaces for software applications that really do network management. You can have all the network statistics in the world, but as long as it’s just on one device, it’s not of very much use to the overall management of the organization.”