Network Instruments updates Observer

Following a July release of its Observer 7.0 software, Network Instruments LLC of Minneapolis launched its upgraded version in November. And with this newest version, the company has tried to add in all of the enhancements they weren’t able to put into the original release.

In version 7.1 of the network monitoring and LAN/SNMP troubleshooting protocol analyzer software, Network Instruments focused on enhancing some of the tool’s features, said Douglas Smith, the company’s president. The upgrade to Observer 7.1 is free for Observer 7.0 customers.

“With 7.0, which was just prior to the 7.1 release, what we added to our protocol analyzer is something called an expert system,” Smith said. “And what that means is, as opposed to just reporting to you the data that we see, we actually use a lot of artificial intelligence and a lot of different methods to sort through the data and try to determine where the problems to pinpoint them for you, as opposed to you having to go through it.”

In 7.1, what those familiar with the product will find are some additions of things people have been asking for, he said. One of the main features, he said, is the enhancement of the Remote Probe, which goes out through the network and reports back so problems can be fixed right at the administrator’s desktop. In 7.1, the Probe will automatically update itself if it finds a lower version on the network.

“I like the way it goes out and is able to gather data from a wide variety of data sources,” said Glenn O’Donnell, a program director with Stamford, Conn.-based META Group Inc. The Remote Probe is a good addition because it can be run from the PC and acts like a probe, he said, but a “watered-down” PC might not have the horsepower to do what is necessary to run the Probe.

Network Instruments added filtering options to its voice-over-IP (VoIP) capabilities and introduced several new protocols, including GRE, Mobile IP, PPP, CHAP, LCP, CCP, Cisco Skinny, Cisco Device Identification, L2TP and IPCP.

Users of Observer Suite will find a new custom decode development kit available in Observer 7.1. The kit is intended for companies developing their own wireless or manufacturing solutions, Smith said. It allows developers to create a custom decode for proprietary protocols with four entry points: beginning of the packet, IP portion, TCP portion or UDP portion.

The last notable feature is the enhancement of the pager notification system.

“This was something that we never really even thought of until customers started yelling at us about this,” Smith said. “Historically what would happen is if the expert was running and it was looking at all these problems, you could flag a problem that was critical and [the product] … would either e-mail you or pop a window or play a sound or it could page a number. As we got into larger organizations, what people said was, ‘Well, on Tuesday, Jenny has the pager and on Wednesday, John is on call. On Thursday, another person is on call.’ So we put in a real flexible system where, depending on the time of day the event happens, you can choose to page different pagers or groups of pagers.”

With Santa Clara, Calif.-based Network Associates Inc.’s Sniffer leading the protocol analyzer market, Network Instruments needs to work on getting more widely accepted in the enterprise and service provider spaces, O’Donnell said.

“At this point, they have some very nice stuff, but I think they’re viewed as a small bit player in the market,” O’Donnell said.

The software is available in three versions: Observer (US$995), Expert Observer (US$1895) and Observer Suite (US$2995).