June 16, 2009 by Jeremy Pollard
I have to admit that when I started this review of IntraVUE network monitoring and configuration software, I was a bit skeptical about a product claimed it could map out your plant floor network and find issues based on a network tool called "ping." I also wondered where the value was in a product that can cost you upwards of $4,000 to be able to see pretty boxes.
Now that I have seen the software, I know!
IntraVUE is a below-the-surface network tool that can help any company that has a layered network see and hear their devices, which can then allow the support team to better respond to issues that affect most networks.
The install went well. Since the software is hardware runtime protected, there is a bit of sequence to go through to get the USB driver loaded for the runtime key. Once that is over, you are presented with a web page with various links to help systems, videos and overviews. I would strongly recommend going through the videos – they are helpful and informative. The audio playback level isn’t consistent, though, so have your hand on the mute button in case it’s too loud!
The software is Java-based and uses a web browser interface and a SQL server to log all of its data. Being database driven, there are reports and historical information that can provide you with a measuring stick. This data can be exported for future offline investigation.
The first "thing to do" is to log in as the administrator and create your first network. The canvas is totally object-oriented, so mouse clicking is object-dependant. The network would include the IP address range of the devices connected to the computer that IntraVUE resides on, and all other subnets that are present for devices such as switches and routers.
IntraVUE will then go out and find all the devices that are connected to the physical or virtual network and display a box on the screen with a connecting line. The colour of the box and the colour of the outline of this box are important features to be familiar with.
The software makes good use of SNMP, a network management protocol that most devices support.
There is a caveat here, however. SNMP serves up information about the device. Should that device be a managed switch, then the switch will report IP addresses, as well as port numbers to an SNMP request. Typically this is done using a public SNMP request. Should the IT group change or lock down the SNMP information, a part of the value of IntraVUE is crippled.
Without SNMP enabled and accessible, object features and data accessibility are limited. This is where you have to work with your IT department to gain access to the SNMP data from the switches and routers.
Once the software has discovered the devices, IntraVUE tells you which devices are SNMP active and those that are not.
It is important to have a network map, so that you can manually insert switches, routers and hubs that are not discovered automatically. To add a device, right-click on the canvas and select "add device." Once configured, move the active device(s) to this new device.
This diagram now represents the true network. I am impressed with the presentation options and how the graphics are managed on-screen.
The strength of IntraVUE lies in its database and the data it tracks. Using SNMP, bandwidth can be tracked. IntraVUE also pings each device a few time a minute and tracks the response times. Ping failures and response times are trended and if there is an issue, it will change the colour of the connecting line. Information about issues and problems can be e-mailed or viewed in the event log, which provides a wealth of information.
This is where I found value. An outside contractor came into the plant and had a fixed IP laptop. I had extended the DHCP range, since I manage this network. Since the outsider has used this IP before, no worries right?
The duplicate IP box was added to the network diagram, and I immediately knew that a new device had connected to the network. While it didn’t cause a big issue network-wise, it could have if the device was a PLC that can’t tell you that a duplicate IP is present.
The display of devices can vary from IP address to thumbnails to icons. Links to outside documents and web pages can be configured for each device, which can provide valuable information to the viewer, who may not have any network knowledge at all.
The threshold graphs are very useful in determining who may be causing a problem.
All in all, it is priced competitively to other network monitoring tools, with the added benefits of supporting industrial networks and subsequent connected devices, such as PLCs.
Since the company was started by an industry veteran, more plant floor tools will be forthcoming.
Go to the website and have a peek. If you have a network, you need this tool!
Jeremy Pollard is a 25-year veteran of the industrial automation industry. He has worked as a systems integrator, consultant and an educator in the field. Jeremy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vendor: Network Vision (http://www.intravue.net/)
Application: Industrial network monitoring and support
Price: $495.00 and up