Maybe it took a mathematician to design the right network diagnostic tool for Simon Fraser University.

British Columbia’s SFU has been using jaalaM Technologies‘ appareNet

for two years — the first as a beta project — to discover bottlenecks in its network.

“”The thing that differentiates this from other products is the architect of the system is a math major,”” says Worth Johnson, SFU’s director of operations and technical support. He’s speaking about Fred Klassen, jaalaM’s chief scientist and co-founder.

“”(appareNet) builds profiles of what traffic on different types of networks would look like,”” explains Johnson. “”What kind of traffic patterns would there be if it was lightly loaded, not loaded and heavily loaded, and so forth? Call it algorithmic, mathematical profiles of all different network types.””

Those profiles are used as a baseline. The software sends out data packets and compares the results against them to discover network problems. “”It’s sort of like a sophisticated ping,”” he says.

The real selling point for Johnson was the fact that the network can be managed remotely using the diagnostic tool. It’s a plus for an organization with limited IT personnel working on a network of 8,000 workstations and servers across 4,000 active ports on switches and hubs at 70 distribution points. “”We use it to lever our staff time and pinpoint stuff really quickly.””

Network problems can usually be attributed to human error, says Johnson — people who install workstations themselves and hook them up to the network without setting the parameters correctly. “”They’ll call us up and complaint that the network is slow and what we will find is that they’ve got their NIC card set to half duplex and we’ve got our switchboard set to full duplex.””

The appareNet application resides on a server on SFU’s main campus in Burnaby, which is linked with fibreoptics to the Harbour Centre campus in Vancouver. The university’s third and newest campus is in Surrey and runs on a network provided by Telus. The appareNet tool is used to manage all three networks. “”We can tell what the load is, dead on,”” says Johnson. “”In fact, when we first put the Telus service into the Surrey campus (last) summer, there were problems with the implementation of it — and we were the ones who told Telus what was really going on with it.””

SFU bought appareNet from jaalaM about two years ago, but the original implementation was a catalyst for the company to set up a subscription-based model for its university customers. The service, called the appareNetNetwork for Academics (ANA), was set up to meet the network needs of academic institutions, which are quite different from those of the corporate market.

“”I’m the director of research, so I’m always looking for research partners. And it’s natural enough fo

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