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LAN & WAN Reviews

Introduction

Update 8/9/2007: This product has been discontinued. But a similar product is available directly from JumpNode Systems.
Pulse and Dashboard

At a Glance
Product Belkin Pulse (F1DU110 1 year, 10 device subscription)
Summary Simple, yet robust SNMP-based network monitoring system
Pros • Plug and Play Installation
• Auto Device Discovery
• Externally Available Web Dashboard
• Remote access to LAN devices
Cons • Analog Modem requires dial-up account
• Needs separate cable for static IP config

The Belkin Pulse is a simple but highly functional and powerful network alarming tool capable of monitoring 10–50 devices. It has the capability to alarm IP-enabled devices with a wide variety of technologies—including IP, HTTP, and SNMP—yet it is simple enough to deploy on even the most basic network.

The technology behind the Belkin Pulse is from a company called Jumpnode. The core of this product is what Jumpnode refers to as their appliance-enabled software (AeS) service platform. The Pulse, leveraging the Jumpnode technology, is an all-in-one network monitoring solution, combining a simplified device with powerful software and an external service to produce a very robust package.

In this review, we've installed and configured the Pulse to monitor numerous different components to get a feel for how it works. We'll run through many of the configuration options and hit on the highlights of its functionality to give you an idea of how it could benefit your network management.

Before we get into the Pulse, let's cover some concepts. Monitoring a network can be very basic: from simply pinging various devices, to running detailed scans, polling, and scripts to verify functionality and monitor service levels.

Why do you want or need to monitor your network? If you're not alarming and monitoring your network today, you've likely received various panicked phone calls or urgent visits to your desk telling you email is down, the web site is down—or, my favorite: the Internet is down!

This is a basic reactive network alarming method: letting end users detect and tell you about problems. This strategy often leads to tense and stressful situations that can be minimized or even eliminated with the right tools. 

Alarms and failures are never good, but receiving proactive notification from an intelligent network device can position network administrators to quickly understand the issue and focus on resolution. A good network alarming system can monitor the key functions of your network and provide reports and quick communication in the event that a device stops responding or begins performing poorly. 

Network alarming systems are often referred to as network management systems, or NMS. An NMS is a critical tool used in both large and small networks. They are used in large Network Operation Centers (NOCs) to monitor and manage large multi-site networks. Many network management systems provide graphical displays and reports on the status of a network, as well as numerous options on notifications—including audible and visual alarming, emails and messaging, communication, or even automated actions in response to defined conditions.

There is a standard protocol commonly used in network monitoring, called SNMP. SNMP, or Simple Network Management Protocol, is an IETF (www.ietf.org) standard for network management and monitoring supported by most advanced network enabled devices. SNMP commonly uses UDP ports 161–162 for its data path. It is not unusual to find SNMP support even on smaller home devices today.

SNMP has three versions. The original is version 1, with versions 2–3 providing greater functionality over the previous. The key is to configure both the device and NMS to use the same version.

An NMS can communicate with one device at version 1, and other devices at other versions, depending on what they support. The Pulse supports SNMP version 1 and 2c, with SNMP version 2c the most commonly used variant of version 2. For more details, check out this good overview of SNMP.

Devices being managed and monitored may have built-in SNMP support, or be running an SNMP agent. With this support or agent, SNMP-enabled devices can reply to a management system's information requests (GET), and/or proactively send information to the monitoring system (TRAP). SNMP GETs and TRAPs can provide very detailed information about a managed device's status and performance.

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