Apparent adds prediction to network software

Apparent Networks recently unveiled the next generation of its AppareNet network diagnostics software, which helps users identify network problems before they arise.

Called AppareNet Version 2.0 Proactive, the software is able to spot network problems by sending out test packet streams at scheduled intervals.

“A lot of technologies become part of the problem, because they try to simulate actual network loads and slow down the network,” said Glenn Wong, CEO of Vancouver-based Apparent. “ApparaNet only works on 10-20 packets per second, so it isn’t a heavy load.”

Unlike a lot of network monitoring tools, ApparaNet doesn’t rely on agents installed on network devices. Instead, the software, which resides on servers located at high-bandwidth points on the network, sends out a small burst of packets across the wide area network and LANs, to a far endpoint. The stream then gets reflected back from the endpoint to the central point.

The heart of the ApparaNet system, the Network Intelligence System, then analyzes what happened to the packet stream as it passed through Layer 3 devices on the network.

“It tells you exactly what happened to those packets and which server or router, right down to the cable, is causing the packet loss, jitter, or latency problems,” Wong said.

Since ApparaNet has no agents, the system can also look inside service provider networks or the networks of business partners.

“Obviously Bell isn’t going to let you put an agent in the pipe they provide,” Wong said. “But ApparaNet travels through there just like an application would and gets a view of the Bell pipe.”

Customers could benefit by using ApparaNet to monitor their carrier service level agreements, Wong noted.

Service providers could also benefit, because ApparaNet could show customers that network problems are occurring in the customers’ networks instead of in the service providers’ networks, reducing calls to service provider help desks.

Apparent’s customers include FedEx, DHL Systems, The Pentagon and the Bank of New York.

The government of British Columbia is also a customer. Martin Webb, manager of data network operations for the government’s Common IT Services unit, has been using ApparaNet for almost two years.

“We were looking for something that could give us a fairly quick performance analysis across a technically diverse network,” he explained.

The government’s network includes a variety of technologies including frame, ATM, wireless, cable modems and Gigabit Ethernet, Webb noted. Before acquiring ApparaNet, Webb’s department had to perform network investigations on a point-to-point basis, because of the different technologies. Even then the tests weren’t perfect, because the problems could be inconsistent, appearing only at specific points of time or under specific conditions.

With ApparaNet, the government can now troubleshoot its network by initiating a test from a single server located on the fattest pipe of the network.

Webb said the only thing ApparaNet doesn’t currently have that he’d like to see is a way to export PDF reports. Currently if Webb’s group wants to send a report to an end user or a supplier, the report has to be cut and pasted, which can lead to formatting problems, he said.

Pricing for ApparaNet depends upon the return on investment the software can reap for a customer, Wong said. Apparent typically runs a pilot project with each customer, which costs around $200,000. If the project doesn’t move beyond the pilot stage, customers still get to keep the equipment, which includes the Network Intelligence System, the sequencer, which sends the packets and a user interface.

ApparaNet Proactive is slated for availability in January, 2004.

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