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3Com unveils tool for LAN management

The networking firm is using its strength in the network interface card (NIC) market to create a new tool that allows systems administrators to monitor and manage LAN networks.

3Com is using its dominance in the network interface card (NIC) market to create a new tool that allows systems administrators to monitor and manage applications, desktop computers, and networks.

3Com on Monday will announce a new version of its DynamicAccess Network Performance Manager that gives IS managers the ability to pinpoint exactly where problems on a network lie, said Jonathan Shalowitz, product line manager for 3Com's software products division.

"It's something that can help the IS manager solve the customer service problems they have...[like] screaming users," said analyst Elisabeth Rainge, of International Data Corp.

Through a Web browser, IS managers can track response times of applications on a network as well as provide PC and server information, such as the amount of processor power, hard disk space, and memory being used.

To ensure there's enough network bandwidth for important functions, businesses can give priority to applications, such as to Enterprise Resource Planning applications over email transmissions, Shalowitz said. And if needed, administrators can track what applications are running and which Web sites are being visited.

John Freeman, an analyst with Current Analysis, said management on the local area network (LAN) is nothing new, but 3Com is taking a novel approach as it's technology is based on NICs.

"What they're doing is putting agents between the operating system and the NIC. Instead of the switch, they're putting it at the end point, which is the PC," Freeman said.

"It's extremely smart. You have the visibility at the point of the network where performance matters most: right next to the user. You can tell what the end user is experiencing on a per-applications basis and so forth," he added.

The industry is addressing network management in different ways. Some companies are developing technology that uses "probes" that can be attached to points on the network near switches, Freeman said. As packets of data zoom past, the probes--which are pieces of hardware--collect information and send it to a main server, which processes the information.

Vendors who make probes include Hewlett-Packard and NetScout Systems, Freeman said.

The second way to manage a LAN is to build probes into switches, but the technology is still being developed, he said.

IDC's Rainge, however, said 3Com's technology is similar to products from several start-ups, including International Network Services and FirstSense Software. 3Com, however, is going after the low-end market, while the start-ups are focusing on the high-end applications, she said.

3Com's new product supports not only its own NICs but those of other vendors, including those from Intel.

3Com executives said the product's version 2.0 will ship in the third quarter of this year. A management server--supporting up to 3,000 users and remote sites--will cost $10,995. Desktop software--called LAN Agent 2.0--will be offered for free to current 3Com NIC users. The cost to support other vendors' NICs is $50 per card, company executives said, with volume discounts available.