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NOTE: This article is an archived copy for portfolio purposes only, and may refer to obsolete products or technologies. Old articles are not maintained for continued relevance and accuracy.
December 22, 1997

Caravelle IPnetWatcher

Caravelle's soon-to-be released IPnetWatcher network-management system is a Java-based, client/server network-monitoring system that, despite the buzzwords, provides a reliable, easy way to proactively administer a network. Although the beta version I looked at was a little rough around the edges, I found the overall product and concept more than usable.

IPnetWatcher acts as a network-service monitor, pinging devices, monitoring SNMP activity, and testing connectivity to TCP services on the network. It performs tasks complementary to those of LANQuest's browser-based NetClarity network monitor, which monitors traffic, collisions, and bandwidth availability.

IPnetWatcher relies on a Java-based network-monitoring agent that runs on a Windows NT host (although most of the code is Java, some system-specific services currently require the network monitor to run on Windows NT).

The monitor is configured through a Java-based console, which runs over Java-enabled Web browsers from Netscape and Microsoft. From within the console, you can define which hosts and services you want the system to test, and also define the events that should happen when certain error conditions are met.

For example, you can define the events as batch files or NT executables that try to restart a downed service; as SNMP traps sent to another network-management system; or as an alert notification to be sent via e-mail, pager, or console.

The Notification Engine, another Java-based NT executable, handles the alert services. Multiple network monitors can use the same Notification Engine, letting administrators consolidate multiple monitors into a single alert framework.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Java-based architecture

The heart of the system is the network-monitor service, which keeps an eye on the hosts and services running on your network. This agent consists of three distinct components: a testing agent (that pings hosts, opens connections to services, and retrieves Web pages); an integrated Web server for configuration and management tasks; and an SNMP agent that provides data statistics to other SNMP management tools on the network. Although the service works as advertised, the monitor component itself is quite plain, providing no real functionality other than that already listed above.

For example, it cannot run as a "real" NT service, meaning that the NT system has to be logged in at all times. Also, I missed some common features in the application interface, such as keyboard accelerators. In addition, I could not find any way to configure a testing profile to load and launch automatically; you must execute these steps manually after you log into the NT host.

Finally, the network monitor service lacks support for non-IP services — including IPX and other protocols—and for non-IP, local NT services (such as tape servers and the like). Despite these omissions, IPnetWatcher is still a flexible management tool.

You use the Java-based console component, which runs on a Java-enabled Web browser, to handle all configuration and management tasks. Using this tool, you can identify which services you want to manage, and then trigger a seek-and-monitor event on the NT-based network-management component. You can also define events that you want to occur when certain conditions are met, and tie these events to specific state changes on a per-service basis.

The configuration tool boasts a well-defined, easy-to-use interface, but it operates quite slowly, taking more than one minute to launch on my local Ethernet LAN, and almost 10 minutes to launch over an ISDN connection. The Java-based code and the need to download the software from the server on start-up contribute to the poky pace.

The product also offers a plain-Jane HTML interface, from which you can monitor the status of the resources but cannot configure anything.

Powerful configuration options

After installing the server components, I used the Auto-Discovery options to add hosts and services to the test bed. I then selected the range of IP addresses that I wanted IPnetWatcher to examine, and the NT-based monitoring service started finding them.

After I chose the hosts and services I wanted to monitor, I used the Notifications menu to add an alert event. Because IPnetWatcher stores the configuration in the NT-based monitor, it uses the separate Notification server to deliver these notices. Supported transports include SMTP, SNMP traps, pager (via a modem), on-screen, and Microsoft Exchange. The product can also call a local NT batch file or executable. I specified that I wanted SMTP mail sent to my PCS, also known as Personal Communication Service, phone and provided the relevant information for it to do so.

The product does not tie notification events to specific monitoring services by default, so creating this link requires a separate step. This is actually a very powerful design, however, because it lets you queue multiple notification events according to time.

For example, I chose to have SMTP mail sent to my PCS phone when a service went offline, and then have Microsoft Exchange send another message to a different account if the service stayed down for 10 minutes. Once the service was restored, the product issued a notification saying so, but only to the accounts that had received previous notifications (for example, IPnetWatcher does not send restoration alerts to the third and fourth levels of the notification chain if it has notified only the first two levels about the failure).

In addition, you can customize the configuration tool's triggers to a great degree. For example, you can define that a service must have a response rate of less than "x" number of milliseconds before the product issues an alert. IPnetWatcher also provides a small but quite flexible scripting language that allows you to define the exact nature of the test itself.

Together, these configuration options make it easy to customize the product for your environment. By separating the monitoring service from the console, IPnetWatcher allows you to use any Java-enabled Web browser to look at your network, regardless of your location. The integrated alerting tools also mean that you woll find out about a problem almost immediately. Overall, these attributes make IPnetWatcher a very powerful product.

IPnetWatcher makes it easy to monitor and proactively manage an IP network without a dedicated management console.

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Copyright © 2010-2011 Eric A. Hall.
Portions copyright © 1997 InfoWorld Media Group, Inc. Used with permission.
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