Fluke looks to redefine tech scalabilityNetwork World Canada

Of the many phrases circling the high-tech industry, “scalability” is one of the most popular. Although it’s supposed to denote easy-to-use, right-sized technology, Fluke Networks Canada’s product manager thinks the word has become cumbersome.

“In my view, it’s a bit overused,” said Brad Masterson, the skeptical Fluke executive. “Scalability is supposed to mean ‘one size fits all,’ but I don’t think that’s true in anything. Scalable really means you buy what you need for today and you make sure it can expand to meet what you need tomorrow.”

Masterson said that the idea of scalability requires a new definition and figures Fluke should lead the movement. The company, with offices in Mississauga, Ont., offers a suite of network caretaking tools that come together to create an all-in-one package, or standalone, depending on the customer’s needs.

Each device can be deployed alone or in combination with its brethren. For example, Fluke’s OptiView Inspector Console stands at the centre of the suite, gathering information from network devices and keeping an eye on connectivity. The OptiView Link Analyzer minds Ethernet connections and the new Workgroup Analyzer sniffs out trouble in switched environments.

According to Masterson, that’s what scalability really means: the ability to pick and choose products based on specific network problems, such as a faulty router. The goal of this approach is to create a set of best practices as unique as each customer’s own Network Operations Centre.

Dan McLean, IDC Canada’s director of application-driven solutions research, views Fluke’s products as complementary components to higher-level management tools that take a wide view of the network. Fluke’s product line “augments what you do around management, it’s not your primary management tool,” he said.

Masterson agreed, saying Fluke isn’t out to change the face of network management, or necessarily steal market share from all-in-one solutions. “I’m not saying the big overview is the wrong thing to do, I’m saying it’s not right for everybody.”

The latest addition to Fluke’s arsenal is the Workgroup Analyzer (WGA). Much like the Integrated Network Analyzer (“Tool tries to alleviate network stress,” NWC, Feb. 8, 2002, page 13), the new device uses active discovery, protocol analysis and RMON2 to see what’s what on the network. But whereas the Integrated Network Analyzer looks like a portable tablet PC, the WGA is a rack-mountable box minus the screen. Just attach it to any node on the network to source bottlenecks and slowdowns, says Fluke.

Michael Kerrick, for one, is fond of Fluke’s thinking. The senior network engineer with Expedia Inc., a travel Web site, uses the WGA to diagnose network outages.

“It gives me so much information about the network at my fingertips,” Kerrick said. “A prime example is, one of our offices in London was having a problem with a router and I was able to use the Fluke [product] to send traffic to it, to do load-testing.”

However, having used other Fluke products in the past, Kerrick said “I actually like the integrated unit better than the workgroup version, because I can carry it around with me. That’s something I really missed. Other than that, it’s been very good. We had some problems early on with it reading SNMP off of a Cisco 6513, but that seems have been fixed.”

Kerrick said Fluke’s products speak not to business buzzwords like scalability, but to everyday network problems.

“I really think if you have a network and you’re serious about taking care of it, you’ve got to have a tool like this. Otherwise there’s so much information you cannot get.

“I use it for such simple things. Sometimes I’ll plug a patch cord into my panel and I won’t get a signal. I’ll just loop that over and connect it to the workgroup analyzer. It’ll tell me if the circuit’s good; and if it’s not, it [the analyzer] will actually tell me where the break in the line is. That used to be an all-day event.”

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