Point-to-point service management

Tracking frame relay connectivity and utilization is a never-ending job. Frisky squirrels, errant backhoes, bad weather and clumsy repair people can wreak havoc on the telephone company links your data flows through. Unexpected volumes of sales transactions, flurries of e-mail and unscheduled large file transfers can degrade telco link performance to levels below what you're paying for. Because of the nature of frame relay, the extra traffic affecting the available WAN bandwidth might not be your own.

ADC Telecommunications claims it's made frame relay management easier for its DSU/CSU customers with its recently released ServicePoint Manager 1.0 software. ADC says the new software monitors frame relay links enterprisewide to check for service-level agreement (SLA) compliance, as long as those links incorporate ADC Service Delivery Unit (SDU) devices. ADC says its SDUs integrate with network management products via SNMP, its ServicePoint Manager software offers a wealth of useful reports, and the software and hardware together can even manage bandwidth by shaping and prioritizing traffic. Are these claims warranted? We decided to find out by stress-testing ServicePoint Manager and SDU devices in our lab.

ServicePoint Manager rose to the occasion. An excellent complement to ADC's hardware, it discovered, grouped and configured SDUs with ease. Historically and in real time, ServicePoint Manager's reporting of SLA metrics informed us of our bandwidth usage. In conjunction with the SDU devices, the software shaped traffic to ensure our e-mail didn't get in the way of our sales transactions. We also found the user interface intuitive and productive.

ServicePoint Manager is essentially a highly graphical, intelligent collection agent for SDU statistics. It polls SDUs to display physical layer, frame relay layer and application layer performance data for up to thousands of frame relay links. The software uses the physical layer data it collects from the SDUs to show connectivity problems as they occur. It uses the frame relay layer data to present frame relay errors and SLA measurement data such as end-to-end delay, frame delivery ratio, data delivery ratio, frames dropped and round trip delay. With 1-second granularity, the SDUs determine bursting above committed information rate by counting frames arriving at a faster rate than the CIR, if any. The application layer data becomes charts depicting traffic volumes for protocols such as FTP and HTTP. ServicePoint Manager collects SDU data each polling interval, which can vary from 5 minutes to 60 minutes but defaults to 15 minutes.

We used four ways to tell ServicePoint Manager about the SDUs on the network. The first involved setting up a text file listing the devices and importing the list into ServicePoint Manager. Another used Address Resolution Protocol cache contents to update ServicePoint Manager's inventory. The third method consisted of entering the devices' IP addresses by hand, and in the fourth we let ServicePoint Manager automatically discover devices by specifying a starting IP subnet address and letting it explore our network. We found the autodiscover approach accurate, quick and, if we wanted to pause and later resume the discovery process, interruptible.

Each SDU's ability to shape and prioritize traffic according to policies we set in ServicePoint Manager was icing on the cake. By assigning a low importance to e-mail (SMTP and Post Office Protocol) traffic and a high importance to database server (Oracle SQLNet) traffic, we could ensure our business transactions were always first to cross the WAN link.

The 25 reports are accurate and easy to understand. ServicePoint Manager's responsive display consists of a tree view of devices and real-time data about those devices. For example, the alarm window's color-coded identification of critical, major, minor and warning alarms was instrumental in helping us quickly locate problems needing attention in our tests.

A Java application, ServicePoint Manager installs Java Runtime Environment Version 1.1.8 as well as Personal Oracle7 for Windows NT, which it uses to store configuration data and the collected device statistics. Considering this is the first version of ServicePoint Manager, the software behaved fairly well in the lab, crashing only twice during our stress tests.

ServicePoint Manager's documentation, which consists of an online collection of Web pages, is clear and comprehensive, while the SDU documentation is an easy-to-follow printed manual. Except for the Personal Oracle initiation phase, installation is straightforward. We had to make some Oracle configuration changes before we could perform database logons.

If you have ADC SDUs in your network, you should definitely get ServicePoint Manager.

This story, "Point-to-point service management" was originally published by Network World.

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