Network Instruments (NI) is looking towards the future by adding a new Voice-over-IP (VoIP) analysis feature to the latest version of its Expert Observer package of network troubleshooting tools, according to one analyst.

“Simplifying the network will be the primary goal of management products in the future, in that you can no longer get away with just being a data collector,” said Paul Bugala, an analyst with International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass. “As things like VoIP and virtual private networks become part of the management task, products that will be able to address the complexity of merging voice and data…will be called on to do some management analysis.”

Bugala said NI’s VoIP Expert feature, to be found on board version 7.0 of Expert Observer, is important for local area networks currently utilizing IP phones, which are often subject to quality problems such as jitter and poor connections.

According to NI, VoIP Expert “reports and analyzes problems with VoIP/H.323 connections and determines at what level of network load H.323 conversations are exhibiting quality behaviour.”

The Minneapolis, Minn.-based company said the VoIP feature is one of several highlights its latest update of Expert Observer and its simplified parent, Observer.

These include:

new post capture statistics including Summary, Protocols, Top Talkers, Matrix and Internet Usage

improved packet capture timing resolution, from 1 millisecond on Windows 9.x to 1 microsecond on NT/2000

As well, NI says Expert Observer also includes a feature called, ‘What-If Live Modeling,’ which measures actual client/server and peer-to-peer conversations in order to plot possible response times, utilization and packet flow scenarios.

“They aren’t going to come out with the most earth-shattering instrumentation,” Bulaga said of NI’s Observer updates, the first since last September’s version 6.2. “But they do put out an inexpensive product that has a lot of applications in the smaller to mid-size environment.”

Currently, Observer is a software-only, Microsoft Windows-based, network monitor and LAN troubleshooting tool. Bugala said much of the market today is buying a mixed hardware and software network management platform, such as those offered by Agilent and Network Associates.

However, he said NI benefits from having a large installed base of customers eager to upgrade their previous versions of the Observer series.

“I think we kind of lose sight of the number of environments that are small enough and whose resources are limited enough that (Observer) is perfect for them,” Bugala said.

Upgrades of Observer’s previous versions cost $295, according to NI, while a new Observer package lists for $995. The Expert extension for Observer lists at $1,995. An Observer Suite package of Observer 7.0, plus the Expert extension and extensions offering SNMP device trending and a built-in Web server costs $2,995.

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