Packet Design's Routing 'Spy'

Packet Design LLC, the research and development company led by former Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) CTO Judy Estrin, announced a new product on Monday that aims to give network operators new insight into the paths taken as the data in their networks travels from one router to another (see Packet Design Looks Into Clouds).

The product, called Route Explorer, helps carriers and ISPs (Internet service providers) fix network problems, review historical data to find where network performance can be improved, and plan future networks, according to Packet Design CEO Judy Estrin.

Rather than just offer a snapshot of the network, Route Explorer purports to "listen" as the routers in a network talk to each other and, after translating the gibberish into pictures, give network operators an ever-changing view of where data is headed and why.

Route Explorer is made of two elements built inside a single network appliance that plugs into a router port. First, there's the Route Recorder, which logs all of the network's routing events into a database. Then there's the Route Explorer, a software tool that takes all of the data from the Route Recorder and creates pictures, charts, and other visual aids to display how a network's traffic changes from minute to minute.

The pictures, of course, make it much easier to spot routing irregularities that could lead to network outages. "This is definitely a case of a picture being worth a thousand words," says John McConnell, president of McConnell Consulting. "The analysis and presentation enable [network operators] to understand the [traffic] situation and see alternatives in a clear, intuitive way."

What makes Route Explorer different is that it can track the IP routing control plane. "All of the [IP network diagnostic tools] that are out there today look at the element perspective -- they only see routers and interfaces and links," says Estrin. "What we're giving network operators is the ability to actually see the routing."

This matters, because part of what makes an Internet Protocol (IP) network superior to a circuit-switched network for moving data also makes it tough to troubleshoot. To wit: It's difficult for network operators to catch routing problems, because each network node makes its own decisions about where to send the data that passes through it.

By studying the paths that data has taken through one service provider's network, Estrin says, Route Explorer has helped the service provider find bugs in a router manufacturer's software and also pinpoint routers in the network that had been set up improperly.

Another Route Explorer perk is that it gives network operators a way of simulating what happens when certain links go down -- so they can test the mettle of their networks without inadvertently causing outages. The product also helps diagnose route flaps, or intermittent failures that are typically difficult to detect.

While Route Explorer's technology sounds impressive, the way it is being delivered to market is unproven. Packet Design, founded as a cross between a research and development company and an incubator for startups, has decided to sell this particular product directly to carriers and ISPs itself, something it hasn't yet done. Rather than spinning Route Explorer off as a separate business or licensing the intellectual property to other companies, Estrin and company have created a new business unit called Packet Design CNS to handle direct sales.

Packet Design employs about 38 people and has raised $29 million since it was started in May 2000 (see Sun Shines on Packet Design). The company has brought on Malay Thaker, formerly the general manager for broadband premises products at Com21 Inc. (Nasdaq: CMTO), to manage the new business unit.

Initially, the Route Explorer system supports the OSPF (Open Shortest Path First) and IS-IS (Intermediate System-to-Intermediate System) routing protocols; support for additional protocols will be added later. The product is priced at $25,000 and is currently in lab trials with carriers. Packet Design says Route Explorer will be generally available during the third quarter of 2002.

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
captbing 12/4/2012 | 10:20:08 PM
re: Packet Design's Routing 'Spy' One box must have its limitations. What is the capacity constraint?
malay thaker 12/4/2012 | 10:20:46 PM
re: Packet Design's Routing 'Spy' Even if I know I won't buy one? I don't work at a service provider unfortunately :(

Sure. Your comments will help us. Drop us an email at [email protected] and we'll go from there. thx.
Belzebutt 12/4/2012 | 10:20:49 PM
re: Packet Design's Routing 'Spy' We'll be happy to do a demo. www.packetdesign.com

Even if I know I won't buy one? I don't work at a service provider unfortunately :(

How about making a downloadable demo, by providing just a piece of the software?

I have a question though: does Router Explorer take under account the make and software version of the routers it's analyzing, and possible bugs or odd behaviours this might cause? Since each brand of routers has small deviations from RFCs, the view and behaviour of the network can change depending on the brand. Is that too much to ask?
resilientnetwork 12/4/2012 | 10:20:52 PM
re: Packet Design's Routing 'Spy' Don't you think a lot of carriers are already using this kind of things ...
malay thaker 12/4/2012 | 10:20:59 PM
re: Packet Design's Routing 'Spy' I'd love to take a look at this thing.

We'll be happy to do a demo. www.packetdesign.com
LANman2001 12/4/2012 | 10:20:59 PM
re: Packet Design's Routing 'Spy' <vendor alert="">
I've worked at all of Judy Estrin's startups including Packet Design. :-)

Belzebutt is right. Due to the Link State nature of the OSPF and IS-IS protocols, Route Explorer is able to very quickly and very accurately get a picture of the routed topology of the entire area through a single interface. And the interconnection map isn't even the main point.

The interesting thing is that Route Explorer can instanly show the full routed path through the IGP from source to destination across multiple routers and links. And it does it for both the current operational network as well as at any time in its historical database. (Dozens of weeks capacity)

Route flaps and other intermittent problems become easily identifiable because they are captured in the database and highlighted in the various graphical displays.

So if you're working on a trouble ticket from last week or last month you can drag the slider back to that time and see exactly what the routing behavior was then. Which links were up or down and what the routes were between the source and destination in question. And you can easily simulate failed links or change metrics and immediately see how the network would reroute. (without affecting the actual network)

The whole point of an IP network is to provide routes through the cloud of links and nodes. Route Explorer lets you see and analyze those routes from a high level perspective.

For more info or to arrange a Route Explorer demo check out http://www.packetdesign.com/re... or contact us at [email protected]
Belzebutt 12/4/2012 | 10:21:05 PM
re: Packet Design's Routing 'Spy' The fact that this box/software monitors the networks and doesn't just simulate it allows it to see the actual current view of the network. If you simulate it, you don't see the _current_ picture of the network, you see a picture of the simulation.

As somebody mentioned before, since support is there for OSPF and ISIS, theoretically you can get an accurate picture of the whole routing domain just by plugging it into one part of the domain. Maybe if you also plug this box into different areas you can even get a full picture of each area.

As for distance-vector protocols, I'm not sure how it could work accurately, since the picture of the network is different for every node.

This sounds like a good tool, if it's designed right it can do a lot of analysis much faster than a network support guy can. I'm sure most of the network support guys out there aren't routing geniouses and they all have something left to learn about the intricacies of routing protocols, this box can help them spot problems. And even if they can spot the problems on their own, this can probably help them do it faster, more easily.

I'd love to take a look at this thing.
MP_UK 12/4/2012 | 10:21:15 PM
re: Packet Design's Routing 'Spy' Got to agree with you here Skeptic. I can't see how monitoring the network from just one point would be any more usefull than running some s/w to emulate it. The idea behind route explorer seems like a winner, but it needs to be implemented to monitor all points of the network that exchange routing protocol information, not just sniff LSP's from one element.
KPSmells 12/4/2012 | 10:21:31 PM
re: Packet Design's Routing 'Spy' This is all good, however such a tool will not sell for cash. Such utilities can easily be copied and marketed by cisco etc....as a simple add-on free utility.

It is a good hype tool which is what judy estrin tries todo in all her companies. Her last company precept software was a disaster and this one is on its way as well.
skeptic 12/4/2012 | 10:21:33 PM
re: Packet Design's Routing 'Spy' Both OSPF and IS-IS maintain a replica of the routing database, and assuming that the LSP flooding is working, they should both see all the routing updates too. So, theoretically, any one node should know the topology of the complete network (modulo areas and what have you). Whether this information is useful or not to something other than a router is another question. Being able to simulate topology changes seems rather interesting though.

Yes, but your still seeing the database from
the perspective of a single element in the
network. You know the topology of the entire
network (or area), but thats not all that
interesting. The interesting interactions are
among the network as a whole.

Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Sign In