In the news business, time is money - even for the team in charge of managing the multi-site network supporting Washington state's largest daily newspaper: The Seattle Times.
Greg Crosby, network services manager for the news organization, is responsible for the infrastructure that moves data and voice traffic across a network spanning 17 remote offices in addition to the corporate headquarters in Seattle. The networks include legacy equipment from 3Com as well as network gear from Nortel and Cisco, firewalls from Check Point and some 270 servers that run the gamut from Linux to Unix to Windows to Mac operating systems. Needless to say, the diversity of the environment coupled with disparate geographical locations makes managing performance and troubleshooting problems across the LAN and WAN networks a bit of a challenge, Crosby says.
"We had a couple of bugs that I found took us far too long to fix with our previous tool, a single sniffer product," he explains.
Using Network General's (now part of NetScout) Sniffer technology coupled with the open source protocol analyzer Wireshark (formerly known as Ethereal) didn't give Crosby enough of a lead on a problem and he found time ticking away while performance problems continued on unresolved. Loading the software onto a laptop didn't show Crosby all the facets of the network he needed to determine the root cause of the network "bugs."
"We needed to find a more robust system that allowed us to spread the system out and collects data from different places, feeding it all back to one enterprise server," Crosby says. "We wanted to have a continuous look at what is normal so we could more easily detect what's abnormal. I wanted any type of network anomalies to be found."
That's why when a colleague suggested putting WildPackets' OmniPeek product, which involves distributing software probes across a network that aggregate data to a central repository. For Crosby, the product offered a means to reducing the manual effort IT staff put into packet sniffing.
"Now we can pull all the capture files together and look at them side by side to correlate, for instance, an FTP process error. Being able to plug that server into the several ports we want to see helps us," he explains. "And one person can do the same work we used to have to use two or three people for. It reduces manual labor significantly."
WildPackets' OmniPeek also enables Crosby to better plan for capacity across the data and voice networks. Using the continuous data collection capabilities, he says he is not able to compile performance and utilization statistics that help him make his case to management when additional capacity is needed to better support the business demands on the network.
"By tracking statistics, I can forecast when we will need more capacity to support traffic spikes," he explains. "Executives listen when we have data that illustrates clearly how we are spending their money."