Taking the guess-work out of network management

Rather than putting the network in jeopardy by running new applications or untried configurations, administrators can now use a new tool from Hewlett-Packard Co. to conduct’what-if’ scenarios and receive answers back.

HP OpenView Service Simulator lets users run a variety of simulated network changes and stresses without having to bring down the real network itself, according to the company.

Powered by MIL 3 Inc.’s OPNET simulation technology, Service Simulator automatically extracts information from OpenView’s Network Node Manager and NetMetrix modules, said Chris Kirschman, marketing program manager with HP in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“It takes the topology data from Network Node Manager, the traffic data from NetMetrix, and automatically creates a replica of your network in Service Simulator,” Kirschman said.

With the simulated network in place, users can test increased usage from more users or new applications.

“You can actually say, ‘What happens if I put a load of 50 more users using a Web browser and doing light browsing, or heavy browsing?’ and then it’ll go off and give you graphical representations of the type of performance you can expect, what kind of response time they can expect based on real data.”

Apart from changing the number of users, administrators can also simulate changes in technology or topology, such as moving to 100Base-T from 10Base-T, or to ATM or FDDI, Kirschman explained. Various types of hardware from 16 major vendors, including HP, 3Com, Bay Networks and Cisco, can be modelled into the simulations, he said.

Scott Toborg is a senior member of the technical staff for the technology resources division of Southwestern Bell Communications (SBC) in Austin, Tex. SBC evaluates and recommends various technologies and products as well as designs networks. Toborg said he has found Service Simulator to be the best simulation tool on the market for the price.

“We’ve done things like ISP networks, large educational networks for state education systems…designing the WAN networks. I’ve also done some large government networks that had everything in them, including the desktops, the LAN, the WAN, and a whole mix of different technologies all the way from 10Base-T up to OC-48 ATM” using Service Simulator, Toborg said.

“[Service Simulator] gives me useful information in terms of network utilization, so we can size the links properly, and end-to-end latency — how the applications are going to perform across the network. It allows me very, very flexible reporting in terms of where I want to get information from. Potentially, there are hundreds of things that you can be looking at…They’ve made the collection of information much easier in the sense that they’ve allowed you to focus on some of the most important aspects of your network,” Toborg said.

Bill Gassman, a senior research analyst with Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said when looking at simulation products, it’s important to distinguish between on-line and off-line simulation and decide what best suits each company’s needs.

“There’s on-line simulation where you beat up your network to see if it can handle this, and there’s off-line simulation (where) you can rearrange things without affecting the network at all. It’s safer off-line, but it’s like any other simulation ‘Does my network really work that way? Is this really accurate?'” Gassman said.

“The on-line simulators are really more for if you have no control over the network, it’s just a black box to you, and you want to test something like the Internet. You can’t really know the topology of that,” Gassman explained.

He suggested a good reason to consider a tool such as Service Simulator would be if a company is considering re-arranging a network to accommodate mission-critical applications.

Both Gassman and Toborg agreed simulation products have traditionally been extremely difficult to use, but they said Service Simulator has improved ease of use with a better interface.

“It’s very easy to use now. Drag and drop, hook things together and away you go,” Toborg said.

If a customer doesn’t have OpenView, the data can be entered manually into the simulator, said HP’s Kirschman, but both he and Gassman indicated manual entry is an arduous process. MIL 3 is marketing the product itself in the United States to non-OpenView customers as two separate products: IT DecisionGuru and Expert Service Planner.

Kirschman said the HP product has both MIL 3 products bundled together. He said IT DecisionGuru is the bulk of the Service Simulator package, and Expert Service Planner is a module that allows users to test simulated networks against specified service-level agreement (SLA) parameters.

Pricing for HP OpenView Service Simulator (www.tmo.hp.com/tmo/ntd/ss/ssmain.html) begins at US$20,000.

HP Canada in Mississauga, Ont., is at 1-800-387-3867.

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