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Affordable IT: Protocol Analyzers

When network applications don't perform to expectations, there's nothing like having an analyzer to drill down into the problem. Besides giving conclusive answers, it can be a great learning tool--you can memorize all the textbook theory you want and read RFCs until you're numb, but only a network analyzer will reveal exactly what's happening.

If your business depends on your network, you need an analyzer in your toolbox. Even on a small network, variables ranging from misconfigured clients and sluggish hard disks to an overloaded CPU on a server can compromise performance.

Another potential source of trouble is your network's infrastructure. For example, bandwidth on a server connection can be inadequate, a backbone connection linking multiple switches can be a bottleneck, and physical errors on network cables can wreak havoc.

Here's a quiz. When network problems happen, you:

A. pay to upgrade your network bandwidth, and pray.

B. ask your VAR (value-added reseller) for help, upon which a quote for new switches appears on your desk.

C. ask your server and applications vendors for help, and watch as they wildly point fingers at one another.

D. tap into the wire with an analyzer and observe what is and isn't happening, and how long it's all taking.

Even a basic network analyzer can tell you if it's the server or the client that's slow, or if your network is overloaded. Sometimes it can pinpoint the cause of the problem, but at minimum, it should tell you where to concentrate your resources.

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