Fluke flaunts its new multi-purpose tester

Cellular phones, PDAs, keys, wallet — network technicians and IT staff members might want to add something else to their

lists of things to tote or attach to their belts.

Fluke Network Inc.’s latest handheld connectivity tester, NetTool, was released in early June. Designed for PC deployment and front-line networking testing, NetTool features desktop, networking and cable testing all in one. Two models of the device are available.

The NetTool standard model discovers what devices are talking on the network, according to Brad Homes, product marketing manager, NetTool, for Fluke Networks. It is also able to display both speed and duplex settings, and identify service on the RJ-45, testing one side at a time.

All a user has to do is plug the device into a jack in the wall to establish what it is connected to and how much wiring is attached, he said.

“It addresses these issues in a single unit: network testing, cable testing, easy configuration testing…and we’ve priced it at a level whereby it’s affordable so that it can be a personal tool,” Homes explained.

The NetTool inline model tests two sides simultaneously. It is able to find configuration problems and can determine which devices a PC is configured to use, he said. It will also find PC and network link negotiations that IT staff may not have previously known about.

In an inline mode, the tool can be plugged in between a PC and the network, or between any two network nodes.

“You press ‘Auto-test’, and it goes out and discovers what’s out there. And it discovers it passively — it’s listening to the traffic out over the network and it’s categorizing the various bits of information that it gets,” Homes explained.

There is a tendency within the industry to think management software is the answer to all of an IT team’s problems, but David Green, the director of marketing for Fluke Electronics Canada Inc., said that is not the case.

“A lot of people focus very heavily on protocol, on the application level of the seven-layer model…when seventy per cent of their problems are down in the physical layer — it’s the cable, it’s the plug, it’s the jack, it’s the NIC card or the workstation. It’s not up in the application,” he said. “There’s a lot of information you can get by focusing on specific requirements and solutions.”

Dan McLean, an analyst with Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd., said he wondered about the future development of the NetTool product, in terms of building similar functionality into more software-oriented types of devices.

McLean explained the issue is “trying to take this capability that they have in a portable device, and maybe build it into software and position it into routers or other networking-type of devices.”

This type of device is used in a reactive approach to network management, he said, whereas if the same functionality were in the software, the whole physical aspect of going out to test things would be unnecessary.

The tool is very useful, McLean pointed out, and is available at a very reasonable price point.

Seattle-based Korry Electronics Co. used the inline NetTool product in beta beginning in October of last year, and is now using the product throughout its MIS department, according to Doug Brayman, the networks engineer for the company.

Korry manufactures indicators and switches, primarily for the aerospace and aircraft industries.

The product impressed Brayman all around — he noted that he found it very easy to use and useful, especially when problems arose with PC configurations.

“The interface is intuitive — at the top it will show you the user’s computer, it will show you the wire going across through the inline NetTool and across to the hub or whatever it’s connected to,” he explained.

Brayman did run into one problem during the beta phase, which he said he brought to the company’s attention on its beta site.

“The only thing that I found to be a problem was when the batteries went low you would get erratic readings and there was no real prompt that it was the batteries,” he said.

Brayman noted he was told that this problem would be remedied.

Pricing for the NetTool standard model is $1,434. The inline model is available for $2,395, and for $1,110 more users are able to convert a standard model to an inline.

Fluke is at www.flukenetworks.com, or www.fluke.com.