As network management systems have been around just about as long as networks have, you would think that they had matured to the point of there being very few features left to add. Recently, I was invited to learn about a brand-new network management platform called Perspective, from PacketTrap.

What is the PacketTrap Perspective?

PacketTrap is the manufacturer of the network tool suite pt360, which was designed to help monitor and diagnose network performance (it comes in three editions, one of which is free). The pt360 combines the power of many tools into a single console to leverage its knowledge of your network and to use custom Cisco tools to make common tasks easier. I wrote about the pt360 in a previous article “Is pt360 the All-in-One Cisco Tool We’ve Been Looking For?”

The new Perspective package includes the pt360 tool and is a more robust application dedicated to monitoring, alerting, troubleshooting, remediating, and reporting. Perspective is designed to compete with products such as IPSwitch What’s Up and Solarwinds Orion network management systems. Even for larger organizations that use high-end NMS systems like HP Openview (rebranded as HP Software) or Tivoli, Perspective could still complement these systems for simplified application monitoring at the departmental level.

PacketTrap Perspective is so named because it allows you to monitor, alert, and troubleshoot your network from the “perspective” of the end device. That, to me, is an interesting feature of the application because it allows network admins to remediate problems from a different perspective — but that isn’t enough to make it unique.

You probably already have a NMS and don’t think there’s anything very exciting about it. I felt the same way until I got a hands-on demonstration of Perspective and saw (1) what made it different and (2) how it could help Cisco network admins.

NOTE: The images in this post are thumbnails that you can click on to enlarge. You can also view them full size in the accompanying TechRepublic photo gallery “PacketTrap Perspective Provides Network Management Tools for Cisco.”

How is Perspective different?

I have used other network management systems, and I originally assumed that Packet Trap’s Perspective would be about the same. However, there are some features that make Perspective different from the competition.

The initial discovery process to help Perspective learn about your network devices is quick, simple, and step-by-step. Notice in Figure A the large blue numbers clearly indicating the settings you must configure to discover network devices. In Figure B you can see the basic information for each network device.

Figure A

Network device discovery

Network device discovery

Figure B

Network device information

Network device information

The trademarked Smart Policies feature automatically identifies the type of devices found on the network and places them into the appropriate policy groups (see Figure C). For example, if Perspective finds a Cisco router, it will place it in a Cisco Routers group. Further, Perspective is programmed to recognize the kinds of things you would want to monitor on a Cisco router versus a server or printer residing on the same network.

Figure C

Smart Policies

Smart Policies

In Figure D, you see the Networking policy screen. Here, networking devices are automatically set up to download syslog files, check for Cisco NetFlow data availability, and run a daily backup of the Cisco configuration file. Obviously, you wouldn’t want these things done on a Windows Server, and fortunately, Perspective recognizes the difference between those types of devices.
Figure D

Networking policies selected

Perspective’s alerts are easy to configure yet also offer many advanced features if you choose to take advantage of them. For example, in Figure E, I configured an alert that will notify me about the utilization of a router’s interface. Also notice all the other types of alerts that can be configured.

Figure E

Alert configuration

Perspective supports wireless networks and features an advanced wireless device monitoring and alerting system, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Wireless activity dashboard

Wireless activity dashboard

Similar to Windows Vista’s Gadgets, Perspective allows you to design your own monitoring dashboard. Many of these gadgets are very useful. For example, you can add gadgets to show you the top ten devices with latency, high memory usage, and high network interface utilization (Figure G).
Figure G

Dashboard gadgets

How can Perspective help Cisco network admins?

Besides traditional network monitoring and alerting features, here are five specific ways that Perspective can help Cisco network admins:

1. Perspective monitors and sends alerts on changes in Cisco device configuration files (Figure H).
Figure H

Configuration file changes

2. Perspective automatically keeps baselines of all network interfaces and any other data the application collects on the tagged device (Figure I). This allows you to configure alerts based on your own data so that, for example, you don’t get alerts for high utilization when it’s really within your normal range limits.

Figure I

Checking baselines

Checking baselines

3. Perspective recognizes Cisco router and switch CPU and memory data (Figure J). With that information, Perspective can show you graphs and alert you to performance problems. For those of you also monitoring Windows systems, this also applies.

Figure J

CPU and memory graphs

4. Perspective uses Cisco NetFlow data to tell you what applications are traversing a router and the utilization those applications are taking up (Figure K). Also, Perspective has a simple utility that will enable NetFlow for you.

Figure K

NetFlow data

In Figure L, the NetFlow data shows us the utilization of a single network conversation in graph form, traversing a router’s interface.

Figure L

Router traffic

5. Perspective points out the differences between configurations by checking the list of backup files it has made of your Cisco devices and comparing them (Figure M).

Figure M

File changes

Perspective has many unique features and, specifically, many Cisco network-monitoring features. Additionally, there are new modules coming out for Perspective, such as its VoIP monitoring module. Overall, I was impressed by Perspective. For more information, visit the PacketTrap Web site.

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