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Distributed monitoring helps Oregon State avoid LAN downtime.

For Greg Scott, the distributed LAN analysis system he uses at Oregon State University is a lot like an insurance policy--when you need it most, it really pulls you through.

"You really have to ask yourself, 'How much downtime can the organization afford?'" Scott says, on his decision to install such a system two years ago.

Scott, computing services manager for Oregon State's College of Business, is like many network managers whose companies rely upon them to keep networks up and running smoothly.

"Today, when the system goes down, we're out of business," he says, noting that besides the thousands of students who rely on the system, faculty research and administrative functions come to a halt when the system goes down.

Such dependence on a network "makes a distributed analysis system one of the more important tools available to MIS managers," Scott says.

Using Hewlett-Packard's 4490S Lan-Probe LAN analysis system, Scott monitors all critical aspects of Oregon State's College of Business LAN from a central vantage point.

He tracks a range of problems that can plague an Ethernet LAN, including those related to cable (one of the more common problems at Oregon State), communications software, traffic load, equipment malfunction and even user error--an important feature considering nearly half of the log-ins come from students, many of whom have never used a computer.

Network overview

The network has II file servers feeding data to 275 clients using Novell's IPX-SPX protocols. Scott estimates receiving nearly 6,000 log-ins each week, a high rate that puts additional stress on the system. The network also provides worldwide electronic mailboxes and an extensive range of print services, including more than 35 laserjet printers.

The system configuration is further complicated by a link to the university's campus-wide network, with about 82 file servers feeding 2,500 clients. The campus system also uses the TCP/IP protocol in addition to the Novell stack.

Clearly, it's important to Scott to locate network problems quickly with the least amount of system interruption possible.

"LanProbe gives us a much better understanding of what's going on in the network; it identifies problems quickly and recognizes multiple protocols," says Scott. He also uses the protocol analysis option to decode packets if he suspects a problem with one of the protocols.

According to Scott, the system continuously monitors vital parameters of a LAN segment to learn the network's operating norms and sends an alarm when those norms are exceeded. Traffic statistics, such as valid packets, collisions, errors and broadcasts, are gathered and displayed on a Quick View chart which displays an easy-to-read snapshot of the LAN's status and can be printed for performance reports or memos.

Still, all the data in the world means nothing if it's difficult to comprehend, notes Scott. He evaluated other systems but opted for LanProbe primarily for its easy-to-understand formatting and data presentation.

"It presents data in a way non-technical people can clearly understand without a lot of mental gymnastics."

Fault detection

"We commonly have problems with cabling," Scott notes. "The LanProbe detects cable faults and gives us the location of the fault."

That is no small task, considering Scott is responsible for an extensive cable plant spread throughout four floors in the business department building.

Malfunctioning Ethernet cards were another source of aggravation for Scott, but are no longer a big problem since installing LanProbe.

"Ethernet cards can go bonkers and generate a blizzard of packets on the network, tying up the system's bandwidth," he says. "The LanProbe identifies the misfunctioning node, and the system map reveals the name of the user. Usually, within a couple of minutes, I'm on my way to handle the problem."

Oregon State's College of Business network uses a single segment monitor (4991A) attached to the end of a thin-coaxial Ethernet segment. Network data relating to the segment is transferred to an HP RS25 workstation running ProbeView 3.0 (4990A) software via an Ethernet adapter.

Besides alerting Scott of system malfunctions, the system serves him in other ways. As he looks for ways to improve throughput, it gives him valuable information on system performance, such as the number of packets being sent per second.

"Instead of going to my supervisor and saying the network seems a little slower, I can document it," he concludes.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Oregon State University's College of Business uses HP's 4990S LANProbe; local area networks
Publication:Communications News
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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