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Having a strong network is a must in today’s business world. It’s also crucial to have a way to monitor and manage such a tool, and Network Instruments has a handy solution.

Having a strong network is a must in today’s business world. But it’s also crucial to have a way to monitor and manage such an important tool, and Minneapolis-based Network Instruments has a handy solution. Co-founder and president Douglas Smith talks about seeing past the blur, troubleshooting, and staying in the black.

What got you personally interested in doing this work?

I have always loved knowing how things worked, and a protocol analyzer provides a unique view of what is going on in your network. Once I used one the first time I was hooked–not because I love the nitty gritty detail of communications, but because I saw immediately that these tools could make sense out of problems that are hopeless to solve otherwise. The first time I used an analyzer it was like having access to the focus button on binoculars for the first time. All of the sudden, everything that was a blur became clear.

Why do you feel there’s a need for your services?

Analyzers are the only tools that can show what is actually happening on the wire, or through the air in the case of wireless. No other tool or technology can act as a substitute. Sometimes the problem is hiding and you need to dig, but our tool is to network troubleshooting what the microscope is to medicine. No matter how easy or hard it gets to connect, as long as there are connections, there will always be a spot for a tool to examine and troubleshoot those connections.

What kind of network problems are companies facing now?

Being able to manage and troubleshoot networks that are becoming ubiquitous. From desktops to servers to palms to cell phones, the network is everywhere. Finding points of visibility to monitor networks is becoming harder and harder. Not only are networks everywhere in an office, they now span multiple locations in even medium-size organizations. This distributed nature of networking compounds the problem. Tools to monitor and troubleshoot must support all relevant technologies that an administrator might run into, and do this in a transparent distributed manner.

Are there network issues that companies may not be thinking about, but should be?

I think that most overlooked part of any company network is monitoring and management. This is both in terms of funds devoted to the task, and bandwidth allocated to the task. Some percent of funding must be spent in monitoring and troubleshooting. Additionally, some bandwidth must be taken just to keep the job of management functional. When a new network is being implemented, monitoring and management should be considered from the start.

In this current economic climate, how do you account for record revenues in 2002?

I think we were fortunate in a number of ways. The first is we have a very mature, feature rich product at a significantly lower cost than our competition. The economic times gave customers a reason to look at our product; the product gave them a reason to buy. Second, we introduced a number of new technologies that we monitor in 2002, including wire-speed gigabit and WAN.

The sales of these products allowed us to service larger companies, and provide larger solutions than we have been able to do in the past. Lastly, as people network more and more devices, there is a natural tendency for things to get more complicated, and thus more problems ensue. More problems, more need for problem solving tools.

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