Netformx DesignXpert 9.0

Is a picture of your network worth a thousand words? Most definitely, if Netformx DesignXpert draws it.

April 10, 2006

6 Min Read
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Originally published online in a different form

Claim: Netformx's DesignXpert provides tools to discover network designs and topology. It also details device specifications and requirements to help prepare complex network proposals quickly. The goal is to reduce procurement time and accelerate time to implement upgrades and develop new network services.Context: Demand is high for new network solutions that maximize current resources, centralize them in data centers and provide redundancy and load balancing. Developing and implementing these solutions is a long, error-prone process that often results in mismatched requirements and high costs. Credibility: DesignXpert automates network design and procurement by discovering devices and their specs and developing cost estimates from a database of more than 70 manufacturers. Netformx is focused on procuring Cisco equipment, and its ability to make further headway will depend on the product's integration with other equipment manufacturers and their procurement processes.

Netformx DesignXpert 9.0, $6,870, includes software and first year of database access to update the device library

Infrastructure upgrade projects have a tendency to run late and over budget, and that's often the result of not knowing the current state of the IT environment, the extent and costs of the upgrade, or all of these. Netformx DesignXpert 9.0 goes a good way toward making sure your next upgrade won't be "under construction" long after the last nail should have been hammered into place. It autodiscovers the current state of the network, including Cisco router configuration files, in no time. With that information in hand, it will scope out necessary upgrades with bills of materials and polished proposals that maximize your current investments in an upgraded environment.

DesignXpert helps design, configure and acquire equipment for your network down to the supported modules on each device. Its multivendor device library contains information, including price, for network devices and their components. It also has a validation tool that can help provision network equipment to get the maximum return on investment. Competing products, including Cisco System's Dynamic Configuration Tool, provide many product details, including prices, but don't autodiscover the network, offer a graphical drawing environment, or generate a bill of materials or final purchase request/order, as DesignXpert does. Doing all this yourself would mean using multiple programs and copying and pasting between them. It could take days--even weeks.DesignXpert easily scoped out our Syracuse University Real-World Labs® network as well as the network in my home office--discovered over a VPN-enabled connection between my home and the lab. The detailed audit it provided doubled as an asset inventory, complete with virtual LANs, MAC addresses associated with ports and Cisco configuration files. Much to my delight, it even told me what devices were no longer supported.

Clean Sweep

With DesignXpert, I configured the autodiscovery process to get everything it could find. I input SNMP read-write community names and set the "hop" count to 15, one less than RIP's infinity. Then I set discovery to go beyond nonresponsive routers and had ping sweeps be all-inclusive.

DesignXpert's autodiscovery of Cisco configuration files provides information on how the device is used on the network. It transfers Cisco IOS configuration files using the SNMP write strings and its TFTP server. After discovery, a right-click of the mouse on a Cisco router object reveals its configuration file for viewing. The autodiscovery feature can even map out the physical connections on devices and detail the VLANs used on switch ports.

Such capability is usually found in big change-management tools. Netformx builts it in, saving an upgrader time in discovering routes and other configuration details that may go unobserved and, in the end, could lead to new equipment that is over- or underspecified, incompatible and costly.

Netformx DesignXpert Screenshot

Click to enlarge in another window

Once the discovery was completed, I had a network map of our three production subnets and a map of my home network. I saved each map as a project.

Panoramic View

New to version 9.0 is the ability to view all projects simultaneously. If you're working on multiple projects, you can switch between them and cut and paste objects back and forth. That's useful if you want to maintain a library of best practices as a "project" and draw on that theoretical design to create your working projects. I saved masters to a "My Favorites" folder where I could draw on them at will.

I created a voice-over-IP configuration for a branch library to use and reuse as a "best practices" design, for instance, and easily added the VoIP devices to the My Favorites folder. From the multivendor device library, I was able to select Cisco from an extensive provider list, including IBM, Polycom and 3Com. Searching for a Cisco 3845 ISR Series Router with a voice bundle, Etherswitch modules, and Cisco 7905 IP phones was easily accomplished, as you can browse equipment by device and component.

Once I made the physical connections on my worksheet from the phones to specific ports on the Etherswitch modules, the included LinkXpert tool let me validate the connections between the phones and the router. DesignXpert also confirmed the pricing and made sure all the components were interoperable and compatible with my overall design--sweet. On the downside, it could only perform the compatibility testing and pricing for Cisco gear; Netformx says it plans to add detailed rules and pricing for Nortel equipment. I'd also like to see this support for Extreme Networks, Foundry Networks, Juniper Networks and 3Com.Doing this work manually would be tedious and error-prone. DesignXpert's automation does it in one fell swoop, and prepares designers for the next step by generating a bill of materials with pricing. DesignXpert also generates a separate work order or listing of all the parts necessary to implement the project in progress.

DesignXpert accesses Cisco's Web site for current pricing. And, if you're a reseller, the Web site will calculate your discounted pricing. Resellers can even save their configuration sets online at Information is updated when you "validate" a network configuration, use the Netformx Updater in manual mode or set it to update on a regular schedule automatically.

Good Advice

After confirming my network design, DesignXpert recommended I add an integrated internal inline power supply or an external power supply. Getting this kind of expert advice is a cut above what you get with most other tools. It also recommended I add a security service like firewall/IPS, VPN or network admission control. I considered this good advice, since Cisco writes the rules to its portion of the library of devices and components. I added these items, generated a new bill of materials and finalized my proposal.

The multivendor device and component library is the key to driving the software's designs and purchasing information. For conventional networking vendors--Cisco, Extreme, Foundry and Nortel, for instance--the information is up to date. For vendors that don't manufacture core infrastructure components, such as Dell and Gateway, the library is out of date. But if you needed any objects that were missing from the library, they'd be easy to import using a Visio Stencil and an Excel spreadsheet with the specifications.If you design and configure networks and deal with Cisco gear, DesignXpert will pay for itself in the time you save in network design and documentation and in your ability to detail network configurations to get the most out of your purchases.

Sean Doherty is a contributing editor to Network Computing. Write to him at [email protected].

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