Startup gives users visibility into IP nets

Early users say new network testing and diagnostics software from startup JaalaM Technologies Inc. gives them a real-time view of IP net performance issues and pinpoints the source of the problem.

JaalaM, founded in July 2000, released Tuesday the first iteration of its flagship software called appareNet. JaalaM, meaning network of friends in Hindi, says its software can pinpoint performance problems, showing network managers where bottlenecks or failures have occurred and what – network, application or outside service provider – is to blame. The software can determine how much bandwidth is being used by applications, if routers are mis-configured and how quickly or slowly networks respond, among other things, the company says.

“It’s more valuable that any other sniffer or protocol analyzer I’ve used,” says John Proffitt, lead network engineer at Providence Medical Alaska in Anchorage. “It takes us less time to diagnose either real or imagined network problems, and we can choose where to spend our time and efforts on improving network performance.”

Proffitt first started using appareNet in October 2001 to test the healthcare provider’s connectivity with an Internet-based application service provider. The ASP had told Proffitt the poor service he was receiving from the ASP was due to Providence’s Internet connection and its location in Alaska, “so far away from the lower 48 states.”

Using appareNet, Proffitt learned the ASP had a problem on its network that was adversely affecting the service delivered to Providence. With appareNet, Proffitt proved to the ASP, and Providence’s upper management, that his internal network and Internet connectivity was not the cause of the problem and ended the relationship with the vendor.

Users install the software on a laptop or a workstation and the software sends groups of packets over network lines to servers, routers, switches, the Internet and external service providers. The condition in which the packets return helps the software determine what happened to them on their round-trip across users’ network lines. Using mathematical algorithms, the software shows users how routers and switches are configured, the bandwidth used on network lines and if applications are too chatty.

Because there are no software agents to distribute, appareNet can report on the networks and devices it encounters along the way, the company says. That means if a service provider router is mis-configured to be delivering only 64K bit/sec on a 128K bit/sec link to a user, appareNet will report that and users can contact their providers to guarantee their service. Giga Information Group analyst Jean-Pierre Garbani says, appareNet works to actively transform how networks are using the IP protocol and optimize network performance in the short term.

“It performs a type of very active modeling and monitoring of the IP network. In ways, it’s like real-time capacity planning,” Garbani says. “It can also looks at the type of service you’re getting, and that’s very significant to enterprise users.”

Proffitt adds: “What’s exciting is that we can see networks that we don’t own or don’t run. Rarely will a service provider let you snoop around their network or validate their technical choices.

This first version of the software works as a ‘reactive’ tool, the company says, meaning users would deploy it to determine why performance is lacking on parts of their IP network. Proffitt says the reactive part of the product is one thing he’d like to see improved in appareNet, but jaalaM says a ‘proactive’ or always-on version of the software will be made available sometime in 2002.

AppareNet could compete with the protocol analyzer aspects of Sniffer tools from Network Associates and performance management software from companies such as Concord Communications, although the features differ among products.

Available now, appareNet comes in two flavors: enterprise and solo. The solo version is the software installed on a laptop or workstation and pricing begins between US$25,000 to $30,000. The enterprise version is a hardware appliance equipped with the software, and it costs $100,000.