Uplogix Envoy tracks settings, but where's the GUI?

Our Clear Choice Test shows that Uplogix Envoy tracks configurations well, but questions about the GUI remain.

Trite but true: Your company's data is its most important asset. This applies to your databases, data files, e-mail stores and yes, even router configurations. The infrastructure device settings you've meticulously and painstakingly programmed into your routers, switches and firewalls deserve as much careful management as your databases.


How we did it

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Uplogix says its Envoy network appliance automatically collects, saves and restores configuration settings for some popular routers, switches and firewalls. The appliance also can maintain, apply and roll back device operating-system upgrades, the vendor says. The Envoy appliance also can monitor devices for connectivity and reboot a router, switch or firewall to reestablish broken network pathways.

To evaluate these claims, we tested an Envoy in our lab (see " How we did it"). Although the Envoy appliance did manage our device configurations successfully, it left us hungry for a better user interface, better reports, smarter monitoring and the ability to audit and analyze device configurations before applying those settings.

Infrastructure management

Like Cisco's Router and Security Device Manager (SDM) and other Cisco router-configuration software tools, an Envoy can save and restore a device's configuration settings and manage IOS version upgrades. Unlike SDM, an Envoy can work with popular models of Nortel, Juniper, TippingPoint (now 3Com) and Tasman routers, switches and firewalls, in addition to Cisco devices.

The Envoy lacks SDM's ability to analyze and report on a router's configuration, but its direct connection to each device's serial port gives the Envoy immediate feedback regarding the device's health, without the need to poll a router, switch or firewall (SDM lacks any monitoring capability). Envoy's looking through router or switch-log entries for statistics and announcements worked well. Its monitoring strategy is more like screen scraping (via each device's console port) than the SNMP- and ping-based approaches that typical network-monitoring tools use.

The appliance is a lightweight, 1U rack-mountable unit that can monitor as many as four network devices through four serial and four Ethernet ports. It also has a console port, Ethernet management port, modem (serial) port and power control port. Out of band, via a VPN-supported dial-up modem port, we could send commands to the Envoy and query its health.

The Envoy's internal battery could continue monitoring devices for as many as 45 minutes in a power outage. Using a power controller such as Server Technology's Serial Ambassador (which Uplogix provided for the tests), the system could cycle power to any stopped devices and reboot them.Envoy has an optional mode in which it can automatically make configuration changes to a monitored device, based on the displayed logging statistics that it gathers via the device's serial interface. However, try as we might to "detune" a router by setting its configuration to something we thought the Envoy would change, we noted no Envoy-initiated changes in our tests.

Interface, reporting and ease of use

When it detected a problem (based on the simple thresholds we set), the Envoy sent e-mail notifications over the network or out of band (if the problem was a network outage). The simple outage- and traffic saturation-based thresholds were not sophisticated enough to let us specify, for example, that 70% network use was acceptable at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day, but that 50% use at 9 a.m. was not acceptable. However, for network outages, the appliance quickly and correctly diagnosed the problem and sent us prompt e-mail notifications. The Envoy also can send SNMP alerts (traps) but not pager notifications.

To give the appliance an IP address, we used the front panel's two-line LCD screen and four cursor buttons, an enter button and a back button. For day-to-day use, a Secure Shell terminal-emulation connection issues instructions via the Envoy's command-line interface. The Envoy lacks any sort of GUI. Unfortunately, and in contrast to Cisco's SDM, it also lacks an edit window to change router-configuration settings. It does include command-line configuration wizards; prefacing our entries with Envoy's pass-through option escape character let us send commands directly to a monitored device through its console port.

The system also didn't offer sophisticated reports with charts, graphics and tables. Instead, the Envoy sends e-mails with textual messages and performance statistics.

Envoy 2.0.1

Uplogix www.uplogix.com
OVERALL RATING
2.7
Company: Uplogix Cost: Four-port Envoy $2,800; Envoy Management Server (EMS) $12,500. Pros: Storage of up to 20 configuration and device operating system versions, direct (non-polling) device monitoring, excellent out-of-band access.Cons: No GUI, needs more sophisticated thresh-olds, should allow pager notifications in addition to e-mail, needs to produce more reports and should have a comprehensive device configuration audit and analysis feature.
The breakdown  
Device management 20%3
Platform support/scalability 20%4
Ease of use 20%2
Reporting 20%1
Installation 10%4
Documentation 10%3
TOTAL SCORE 2.7
Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional; 4: Very good; 3: Average; 2: Below average; 1: Consistently subpar

A separate Uplogix product, the Envoy Management Server (EMS), offers a Web-based GUI for working with multiple Envoy appliances. Uplogix didn't send us an EMS device but did let us remotely access an EMS at the vendor's offices. The five basic EMS Web pages provide for Inventory, Alarm, Scheduled Task, File Archive and Administration tasks. An EMS makes the Envoy configuration simpler, but it still doesn't let you set sophisticated thresholds or prepare a range of useful reports.

Envoy is an interesting appliance-based approach to router, switch and firewall configuration, and it has an unusual method for monitoring devices for outages and performance problems. However, we'd like to see Uplogix improve the user interface, allow for more sophisticated thresholds, offer pager notifications, produce more reports and provide Envoy with a comprehensive device-configuration audit and analysis feature like SDM's.

Nance runs Network Testing Labs and is the author of Introduction to Networking, 4th edition and Client/Server LAN Programming. He can be reached at barryn@erols.com.

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Nance is also a member of the Network World Lab Alliance, a cooperative of the premier reviewers in the network industry, each bringing to bear years of practical experience on every review. For more Lab Alliance information, including what it takes to become a member, go to www.networkworld.com/alliance.

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