Maintaining high network availability; difficulty solving intermittent performance problems
Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold with Flow Monitor plug-in
Swann Engineering Group Ltd directly supports the three business groups of Swann Group that have more than 40 years of experience fabricating steel structures for petrochemical, engineering and construction businesses. Swann Engineering’s requires unfettered access to high-speed network services to deliver a broad array of engineering services on time. It falls to Network Administrator, Christopher Roberts to deliver uninterrupted network access and high applications availability.
When Chris joined the company, a quick inventory of available tools revealed there was no IT monitoring software in place for maximizing network performance. He worried that tracking down intermittent application performance slowdowns would be difficult or impossible, especially if the problem seemingly resolved itself before a cause was found. Chris’s worry was confirmed soon after when a company director, suspecting that application slowdowns were caused by non-work activities like downloading films, music and videos, asked, “Who is watching YouTube® on the company network? ”
Chris knew that answering this question was the IT equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack. “Beyond that,” he added, “we had no idea if links were going down until people would begin to complain. We needed to invest in monitoring software to keep the network up and running.”
With management approval, Chris began a search for a monitoring solution. He soon narrowed his recommendation to either Paessler PRTG or Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold. While both products had some overlapping functions, WhatsUp Gold ultimately won out with its less costly licensing model.
“With four switches per site and with 40-50 ports on each, we’ve got a few hundred sensors to monitor,” Chris points out. “With PRTG we’d have to license per sensor rather than per device, which would cost more. With Ipswitch, we pay for four device licenses rather than 400 sensors -- and that makes a big difference.”
Savings aside, the big payoff was a substantial reduction in time spent finding problems. Chris gives much of the credit for that to WhatsUp Gold Network Traffic Analysis. Swann’s network infrastructure has four different domains, each with a private WAN. When problems struck, he’d usually be obliged to hop in a car, drive to the site reporting the problem and begin troubleshooting. “That’s fortunately a thing of the past”, he reports. “Now, with Network Traffic Analysis in use on each site’s router, it is easier to monitor from a remote location. Now I can see each site remotely and receive alerts.”
Chris also appreciates the ability to discover every component on a network and create a map of it. But the biggest benefit he has noticed is his new ability to drill down to root causes of network slowdowns in a couple of minutes. “We have really fast fiber, but it’s not everywhere,” Chris points out, “so user downloads that aren’t related to company work can sometimes impact data movement to the point where other users can’t work on the slower ADSL networks.”
Chris employs Flow Monitor to identify what is causing a slowdown. “Network Traffic Analysis can look at links between sites, so when a site goes down or bandwidth goes up beyond limits we’ve preset, we can see it,” Chris explains. From that point it takes little more than several mouse clicks and a minute or two to “drill down” through detailed bandwidth utilization graphs to isolate a root cause.
While a network application server or network component failure could be the problem, it’s more likely that an employee is taking a break watching YouTube, downloading a movie for viewing after work or using a streaming music service. Chris can pinpoint the IP address where the data is being streamed from and the target device by getting automated assistance from WhatsUp Gold to review log files. In this way, he eliminates the tedious and time-consuming regime of trial-and-error reviews of router activity. “We are not trying to be Internet police. We try to be discreet, bringing this to the attention of the person causing the problem. But we do need control over the smooth running of the network.”
“WhatsUp Gold is perfect for what we’re doing. It does exactly what Ipswitch says it does.”
Swann Engineering Group
After a few months working with WhatsUp Gold the company still has plenty of functionality to explore. These include setting up real-time alerts with Network Traffic Analysis to provide early warnings of a user abusing bandwidth. For instance, there are plans set up a custom alert if anyone generates more than 100MB in traffic over a torrent UDP connection within a 20-minute period. At this point an administrator will be able to quickly identify the machine behind the surge. With this in place, Chris will be better positioned to proactively monitor and fix problems that could cause slowdowns, before they adversely network users.
“WhatsUp Gold is perfect for what we’re doing,” Chris concludes. “It does exactly what Ipswitch says it does. We can apply granular visibility to a problem, and it allows us to track where it came from and determine how long it affected the network.”