The Growing Need for Network Simulation


Now that enterprises are transforming their IT infrastructures to more service-based applications using cloud technologies and advanced data fabrics, the need for sophisticated network simulation and emulation technology is on the rise.


IT managers are quickly finding out that changes in one part of the network or on the application level can often lead to changes -- rarely for the better -- in other parts. The problem is that the impact of these changes usually isn't felt until performance starts to degrade, and then network admins either have to dial back the new application or service (not always possible) or shore up network resources (almost always expensive and complicated).


That's why a new generation of emulation software is drawing substantial interest. A recent report from The Aberdeen Group indicates that organizations using simulation technology are 53 percent more likely to see network and bandwidth improvements than non-users, and 85 percent more likely to see faster response times. The report points out that simulators, which use theoretical mathematical models to build virtual networks, are better at pointing out specific network deficiencies, while emulators that create small-scale copies of the network are better at predicting the impact of new applications and other changes.


Probably the most well-known emulator is Shunra's Virtual Enterprise, designed to test application performance over a variety of WAN environments. The company recently released Version 5.30 of the software for the new STA appliance that supports aggregate rates up to 24 Gbps. The new version includes an application performance analysis module designed to cut error discovery from weeks to hours. The company also recently received certification for its VE Desktop solution for HP's LoadRunner WAN emulation system.


Other new systems on the market include Gambit Communications' MIMIC simulator. The software can be used to set up a virtual test lab representing thousands of network devices. The latest release (9.00) extends the system into Windows Server 2008 environments and incorporates the HP Openview Network Node Manager and the IBM Tivoli Netview toolkit to provide a more accurate managed network simulation.


British firm iTrinegy says its new INE Companion appliance combines network analysis with real-time network capture and replay to better represent working conditions. The company says that in addition to emulating standard bandwidth, latency and other network conditions, the INE Companion reports full traffic conditions and other activity found on the live network. Not only does this provide a more thorough analysis of current and historical performance for improved baselining, it provides a more accurate reading of errors, packet loss and other monitoring parameters.


The amount of time, money and effort that goes into building and maintaining the modern enterprise network has increased substantially over the past decade. So much so that it has become very risky indeed to load up on new services and applications without adequately gauging their impact on that investment. Simulators and emulators used to be a luxury for the top tier. They are fast becoming a necessity for nearly everybody.