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I normally try to keep sales and marketing type stuff out of my blog but this information is pretty cool. The marketing team is giving away free copies of our LAN Surveyor Express (LSE) for the rest of the year (the next 2 days). You can get it here or go to the website to read more about it.

LSE is a really nifty tool. Basically, you run it and LSE will do a complete layer 3 and layer 2 discovery of your network and will build a detailed topology map of all of discovered devices. The information is then exported direclty into Microsoft Visio so that you can view, edit, and save the drawings.

Keeping a printed diagram of the network on the wall of your office or cubicle is a best practice that I HIGHLY recommend and this is a really quick and painless way of mapping out your network.

Give it a try and ping me if I can be of any assistance.


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As I sit at my desk, having enjoyed a traffic-free commute this morning, I find myself rather enjoying the holiday feel around the office. You see, one of the perks of being Head Geek (HG) is that they remove the traditional door to your office and replace it with a high-velocity revolving door. This way people that need technical assistance and/or information can whip in and out of your office without really slowing down. It's quite efficient and enables you to help countless people every day that would've otherwise had to stand in queue.

While this is a great system, working around the holidays tends to provide a respite from the normal frenzy and allows me to get some work done and to also ponder some of the more important things in life and to be thankful for the things I've been blessed with. So, in typical HG fashion, here's a quick list of the Top 5 Things I've been Blessed with This Year:

#5  802.11n. Yes, it's been around for more than a year but this year saw it being adopted much more broadly (industry wide and for me personally) and saw significant architectural advancements in the core that really allows us to leverage it. This is some flippin' sweet technology.

#4  Hulu.com. I don't know when Hulu was started up, but I was only recently introduced to it by my buddy David Gardiner. I can waste time on that site like no other. It's one of my favorite stress busters.

#3  My iPhone and everything that goes with it (3G, Appstore, etc). Well, actually, it's not an iPhone but these iPhones as I've bought 3 this year but that's a longer story. Either way, I love my iPhone. My buddy kvanzant showed me a new game called "Fieldrunners" and now I love it even more. This year I've helped countless friends make the leap from older, inferior technology like Blackberries and Palm devices over to the iPhone and they're all better off for it. That's what I call "Sharing the Love". Now that I have an AppleTV as well, I have finally achieved a sort of divine technological balance in life. Yes, young grasshopper, balance is the key to a happy life.

#2  My yogi (or more correctly yogini). Didn't know that the HG does yoga, eh? Welcome to the enigma that is the HG. When I'm not at a computer twiddling bits or in the field with a shotgun making the grass grow, this is how I roll. If you don't practice all that I can tell you is that the quality of your yogi has a direct and colossal bearing upon the quality of your practice and I happen to have the very best. Namaste Monique - you rock.

#1  You. Our community - members of Thwack, readers of the blog, followers on Twitter, the staff here at SolarWinds, and attendees of webcasts. Conversing with you is the best part of this gig and contributes to this being one of the coolest jobs in the world. Whether we're discussing advantages of IP SLA vs. dedicated hardware probes or The specified item was not found. - it all contributes to this feeling of community that us geeks have grown to love.

Have a Happy Holiday, be safe out there, and Live Long and Prosper.


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Last week I got the chance to chat with Chris Pirillo (the Lockergnome) about some of our free tools. Check it out on YouTube.


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Josh Stephens

Super Hero Debate

Posted by Josh Stephens Dec 17, 2008

As many of you know, I'm a HUGE fan of super heroes. Love the movies, comics, TV shows, costumes, toys, gadgets - you name it.

Well, there's a great debate going on right now as to what actually qualifies someone as a super hero. It started with an argument about whether or not Spock is a super hero and has developed into much, much more...

If you're as big a fan of super heroes as I am, you really can't afford not to chime in and make your opinion known on this debate.

The specified item was not found.

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For the last week or so I've been neck deep in a project where I've had to investigate the capabiltiies and performance of the SNMP MIBs and SNMP agents of a couple of different types of devices from a handful of different vendors. Let me tell ya, this got complicated in a hurry. In some cases the MIBs were being written and I was literally testing them the same day and in some cases the SNMP agents were open source derivatives and had all kinds of weirdness going on. The sickest part is probably that this was more fun for me than the last vacation I went on. Yeah, I'm that geeky...

Anyhow, this project caused me to spend a lot of time using our Engineer's Toolset and specifically the IP Network Browser, SNMP Real-Time Graph, and of course the MIB Browser. Have I mentioned how much I love our MIB Browser? Of all of the tools in our toolset this is the one that's saved my bacon more times that I can remember...

Using a MIB Walk is a great way to collect data from a device and see what types of data said device makes available via SNMP. My buddy Jimmy Ray Purser blogged on this subject recently and it's a great post on understanding MIB Walk.

The downside of using a MIB Walk is that you can get a ton of data. This means that the MIB Walk can take a really long time to complete, that you have a lot of data to sort through, and that refreshing that data is cumbersome. The MIB Browser takes away these issues and makes it really easy to work with the MIBs that your devices support. There are some really key differences between a MIB Browser and using a tool like MIB Walk. First, the MIB Browser exposes the entire set of MIBs that are available within the database and allows you to search and browse your way through them. This is helpful if you don't know what you're looking for or if the data you need is available in a MIB that the hardware your querying doesn't support (usually because of a firmware version issue).  Another key difference is that you can "walk" only parts of the MIB tree when using the MIB Browser vs. having to walk the entire tree. Third, you can use commands like "Get Table" to grab a whole table at once, display it in table format, and then refresh only specific cells on demand.

My favorite feature though is that you can "Bookmark" your favorite MIBs so that they're easy to find later - and yes, that was my idea :)  Pretty cool, huh? You can also export the data you collect with MIB Browser to several different formats (PDF, CSV, HTML).

I'd planned to end this post with a poem, sort of an "Ode to MIB Browser", but alas I am being called into yet another meeting so instead I think I'll just sign off with a heartfelt "Thank You" to the guys here at SolarWinds who develop and maintain our Toolset and all of the tools within.


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If you've been managing networks and/or systems for long you've probably noticed that Element Management Systems or EMSs sometimes seem to multiply like rabbits. Let's talk first about why this happens and then we'll discuss how to fix it.

The reaons that most companies end up with a bunch of EMSs that they don't need and/or use are pretty straight forward. First, pretty much everyone has at least a couple of different hardware vendors represented on their network. There are lots of reasons why this happens but for the sake of brevity let's just concede that this is a fact and move on. Now, if you're a hardware vendor, you pretty much have to provide an element manager for your gear. Not necessarily because one is needed, but because everyone else does it and if you don't then your competitors will use this fact against you to take away your customers.

So, because most hardware vendors have their own EMS, it's easy to see how their sales people would want to use this software as a way to increase the size of each deal by a few thousand dollars and it's easy to see how this is an easy thing to talk us into because, hey, we're buying some new hardware chances are that we'll need some new software from that vendor to manage it. Makes sense, right?

Now, as most of us know, EMS typically turn into one of two things withn 6 months of buying them. First, lots of EMSs end up as nothing more than a box with a CD in it and a vendor's logo on it, sitting on a shelf near our desk and collecting dust (we call this shelfware around here). Don't be embarrassed - it happens to everyone. Second, some EMSs end up staying around for a long time because there are some things that we get from that EMS that we like and/or need but we seldom ever use it because it's not a part of our everyday practice or a part of our regular NMS. So, what do you do?

If you've got a strong network management system in place there are some things that you can do to move the functionality you need from the EMS to your NMS and then retire the EMS completely. Not every NMS has this capability, but some of the newer ones and all of the next gen ones do. Orion is a great example of this and has modules and features that will help you replace several different types of EMSs. Let's walk through an example:

Let's say that you've bought some new Uninterruptible Power Sources (UPSs) from APC, Liebert, or any of the leading vendors and of course you got yourself a copy of their management software. Now, some of the data that it gives you is really cool. You can see how much power each device is using, the status of each battery, whether or not the systems are running off of backup power, how much battery life is left (assuming power isn't restored), and etc. Problem is, you really don't want to maintain a separate management application and you'd really like to have this data in Orion where you're already managing the routers, switches, firewalls, and servers that are connected to the UPSs.

To move that functionality into Orion, here are some things that you can do:

1. Check to see if the funtionality you need is already included in Orion. There are several templates, Univeral Device Poller (UnDP) configurations, and etc already built and packaged with Orion.

2. Check Thwack to see if someone else has already done this. If so, they can share the templates they created via the Content Exchange and you can import it directly into your Orion.

3. Use the MIB Browser and MIB Walk toosls within the Engineer's Toolset to discover which MIBs on the target devices contain the data that you want and then create your own UnDPs. BTW, if you do this you should share them on Thwack so other people can use them. Also, if you're not familiar with a MIB walk or what it does check out Jimmy Ray Pursor's blog post on this subject.

4. Use a protocol analyzer (Wireshark rocks!!!) to see what the EMS is doing and then replicate within Orion. This is the hardest method, but will work in almost any situation plus you get to look at packets which is always a plus :)

Well, that's enough for tonight but ping me back if you have questions or want to discuss this further. Please note that I never said that EMSs are evil - I just prefer to only have to deal with one network management system at at time...


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There was a discussion last week on one of the forums that I participate in on load testing WANs that got me to pondering the subject so I thought I'd write about it a little. If you've never been tasked with a load testing or WAN performance benchmarking project you're really missing out. These can be fun projects and in my experience offer some of the best learning experiences out there. Additionally, this is a vital part of any network assessment or application readiness project. So, even if you haven't been asked to do one - maybe it's time.

As you prepare to dive into the world of load testing there are some key things to keep in mind. First, let's deal with some of the common mistakes that people make. One common misconceptions about network performance is that bandwidth utilization equals network performance. While understanding and monitoring bandwidth utilization is a key part of analyzing network performance, it's really only one piece of the puzzle and depending upon the nature of traffic on the network it may not be the key piece. Latency, on the other hand, is often overlooked but is definitely a key metric to track in any performance analysis. Another common mistake is that people tend to think about both bandwidth consumption and latency in terms of single measurements, but it's important that you understand and measure each direction that the traffic is flowing as most WAN circuits are full-duplex, many are asymmetrical, and latency measurements can vary greatly depending on which direction that the traffic is going.

When it comes to inducing congestion (i.e. generating traffic) there are many ways to do this. Typically I use the WAN Killer application within the Engineer's Toolset here at SolarWinds. There are also some great open source traffic generators like Seagull. Of course, if you're in the mood to spend some money and wanna get really giggy with it there are a host of applicance based solutions on the market that you can go completely crazy with.

When using a traffic generator, like say for instance the WAN Killer, if you want to see traffic in both directions you'll usually need to enable simple TCP services (and or UDP services) on the target host. On a Windows server this involves opening the control panel and enabling Simple TCP Services. Within Cisco IOS the commands are:

service tcp-small-servers
service udp-small-servers

This is a subject that I could talk about forever, but I've found that blog entries tend to lose their appeal if they get too long so I'll wrap it up for now. Comment back if you want more info or feel free to ping me directly.


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I was in a meeting yesterday where we were discussing some of the things that get geeks like us (network engineers, system administrators, security folks, etc) excited about apps and tools. In thinking about this, I kept coming back to my favorite apps over the years and some of my most memorable moments using them.

To me, the coolest things about applications are those "undocumented features" and use cases. For example, I remember when I found the flight simulator in Microsoft Excel years ago. Dude was that cool! Or what about the first time that you figured out to use CTRL-T to open a new tab in Firefox? Heck, for an even less technical example, who remembers when you figured out that you could use your calculator to type words like "HELLO"?

I think this is also one of the main reasons that so many of us love Cisco IOS - because the longer you use it the more cool stuff you find that you can do. Even if you've been using it for years the folks at Cisco Systems keep putting in new features like NetFlow, IPSLA, and NBAR and so there's always something new to play with.

Since we're on the subject of undocumented features, here's one for Orion NPM. When viewing a report from the Orion website you can append these commands to the end of the URL to return the output in Excel or XML format, respectively:

&DataFormat=Excel
&DataFormat=XML

What are some of your favorite hidden features/cheats/tricks with the tools and apps that you use?


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