Infrastructure // Networking
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Randy George
Randy George
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Infrastructure Management Startups Bring Big-Company Capabilities To SMBs

Three newcomers offer specialized, low-cost or no-cost tools to companies with tiny IT budgets.

If you're like many small and midsize businesses, your budget for network monitoring tools is somewhere between small and nonexistent. And even if you could afford the tools offered by network management's "Big Four"--BMC Software, CA, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM Tivoli--their features would probably be overkill.

Some network management startups have entered the market with products that fill the small-budget void by bringing big-company capabilities at a price that's 10 cents on the dollar or less than those of those high-end platforms. Here we look at offerings from PacketTrap, Spiceworks, and Zenoss, all founded in 2006 or later. Each targets a network management niche, aiming at specific pain points common to SMBs.

PacketTrap was founded in 2006 by a group of former SonicWall executives, and pt360 Pro is the company's first commercial offering. The professional version of pt360 can be downloaded as a fully functional product for 30 days, after which time you'll need to purchase a site license for $795.

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We dropped pt360 Pro into a moderately complex network infrastructure consisting of many Extreme Networks switches and Cisco routers. Installation was extremely fast and simple. Once it was installed, we were immediately logged in to the pt360 Pro dashboard, where a large set of basic troubleshooting tools is aggregated into a single view.

The pt360 Pro offers a basic set of network troubleshooting utilities that network engineers use in daily life. Of the 16 tools available on the main dashboard of the pt360 console, seven are devoted to performing pings, traceroutes, port scans, and MAC address resolution. The pt360 also includes tools for DNS mapping and troubleshooting and Windows Management Instrumentation/SNMP troubleshooting. The rest of pt360's capabilities focus on Cisco router configuration management, TFTP/Syslog services, NetFlow Analysis, and switch port mapping.

Many of the tools that pt360 provides can be had for free from a variety of sources. But after using the tools for a few days, we were hooked on some of the value-added features. For example, a DOS-based traceroute that took 10 hops and 14 seconds to complete on our lab server took less than 1 second using pt360's graphical traceroute tool. If you're a network engineer who's constantly chasing down routing issues, the lightning-fast execution of traces is reason enough to buy pt360 Pro.

Also, pt360 offers terrific port scanning capabilities. If doing port scans all day is part of your job, we suspect the time saved will pay back the license fee pretty quickly.

We tested seven enterprise management tools that cost less than $10,000. Find out how they stacked up.
Our favorite feature of the suite is pt360's switch port mapper, which interrogates a switch and generates a table listing port numbers, speeds, interface types, MAC and IP addresses, and operational status. If you run the switch port mapper against your core switch, it will interrogate the MACs and IPs of hosts hanging off your downstream switches as well. So if you need to track down the physical port location of a particular host, you can do it like lightning with the switch port mapper.

All in all, pt360 is a solid, basic network trouble-shooting tool. It's not Tivoli or OpenView, but its price point and feature set make it a no-brainer if all you need is a simple toolbox of utilities. In August, PacketTrap introduced Perspective, a more full-featured "remediation" system that works in conjunction with pt360 Pro. Perspective wasn't available in time for our review.

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