Field Report: Dartware Intermapper

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Intermapper (click to enlarge)

IT is quickly become the primary concern of nearly every radio engineer. Where we once had 3x5 cards, carts, and LPs for our audio sources, we now have an accumulation of 45 computers. Terms like TCP/IP and router have replaced the well-worn phrases of yesteryear like turntable, tape deck, and even CD and DAT machine around my office. The last reel-to-reel and triple-decker were tossed out years ago in favor of the mighty computer.

No surprise though, that this metamorphosis didn't happen overnight. It took two decades from our first humble 2.5Mb/s ARCnet bus network to grow into the GigE spans we now have in place. Today, complex parallel optical technology speeds Ethernet up to 100Gb/s. Gordon Moore observed that transistor density in integrated circuits had doubled every year since the ICs invention. Liberal interpretations of Moore's Law seem to apply everywhere in technology -- data density, processor speed, etc. Fortunately, cost has become an inverse function of Moore's Law. We now find ourselves surrounded by computers, network devices, and network-enabled devices.

Like it or not, radio engineers are managing several very complex networks with hundreds of clients, miles of cabling, and countless switches and routers -- a CAT-5 high-wire act far above the ground without a net! For all too many of us our network is an inky-black abyss with nothing more than some link lights to indicate its operational status. Our networks are crucial to our business, so I finally installed that net.

Safety net

Dartware does one thing. It makes network-monitoring software. Of particular interest is its Intermapper, which allows accidental admins, such as we, to map critical devices on our networks and have them watched continuously. Intermapper accomplishes this oversight with its assortment of probes. Because this software package targets IT management professionals, many of the included probes are for inspecting high availability routers, enterprise class servers, and the like. For radio engineers, the Ping probe and the SNMP Traffic probe are the most useful.

I have been buying Layer 3 managed switches for several years. SNMP is generally included in them. Even some broadcast equipment such as the Bird BPME series wattmeter and Wheatstone Wheatnet blades support SNMP. Intermapper's SNMP Traffic probe easily connects and extracts critical data and reports alarms and warnings. PING probes are useful to keep tabs on network-connected equipment that doesn't offer SNMP. I've found it useful for my Burk ArcPlus remote control equipment, which Intermapper polls with a 20B ping every 60 seconds. This "You there?" "I'm here" chatter is completely innocuous to the end systems and introduces negligible network traffic. The indisputable value is that I never wonder if all of its nodes are conscious. Many times I've found a dead soldier on our network only after I've badly needed to communicate with it.

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