City keeps network up to speed with software
Vero Beach, Fla., has begun using software to detect problems on the city’s wide area network (WAN). The software has helped the city keep the computer network running smoothly while it extends the network to more employees.
For the past few years, the Vero Beach Information Services (IS) staff has been stretching the city’s computer network from a two-hub system without inter-building connectivity to a WAN system that connects eight locations, including City Hall, the local power plant and the Police Department. “As we incorporated remote [local area networks] and far-removed employees, the burden of file sharing and print jobs really slowed the network down,” says Paul Mills, supervisor of voice and data networks for the city.
When the city provided e-mail and Internet access to all employees, data storms and collisions added to the already-sluggish network. “We felt we had multiple problems to deal with, but no clear picture of what was wrong and — worse yet — no immediate way to find out,” Mills says.
The IS staff began researching tools that would help it clear up existing network issues and that would let it map network trends so it could resolve some issues before they became large problems. The city needed a portable tool that installed easily on remote computers so it could be used in varied locations.
In 1998, the city purchased Observer protocol analyzer software from Minneapolis, Minn.-based Network Instruments. The first time the IS staff used the software, it revealed packets — such as AppleTalk and other protocols — coming from various print servers the group did not know were on the network. Additionally, the staff found that all the Windows stations had NetBIOS, a networking protocol, turned on as a default, creating double traffic on the network every time someone logged on. The team eliminated or turned off the extraneous traffic and experienced an immediate increase in response for log-in times, print times, and e-mail and Internet access.
In November 2002, the city upgraded the software to Observer Suite, which contains a management console that allows the IS staff to monitor the performance of all the network switches. The suite also includes a switch station locator that allows the IS staff to determine what port and switch in the network any device is attached to. By using the suite, the IS staff can generate reports of port utilization from any Internet browser.
Additionally, the IS staff receives alerts when a new machine or device connects to the network. If an employee has trouble connecting to the network, the IS staff can use the software to determine the reason for that problem. Occasionally, the IS staff will use the software to test the network to determine what kind of traffic a new software installation will create on the live network.
The network analysis software has helped the IS staff resolve network trouble before employees notice it. “It sure is nice to alleviate a problem before users call,” Mills says.