5 Cool Things You Can Do with Compass Live

What is the one 2012 prediction all network engineers agree on? Network traffic is increasing and will continue to increase for years to come. And because of that there is a high demand for good tools to monitor and analyze large amounts of data.

To address this, WildPackets launched a beta version of Compass Live last summer. A real-time interactive dashboard for analyzing wired and wireless networks. Compass Live has a series of interactive graphs that provide visualization into everything from overall utilization of the network to top protocols and nodes with both .pkt (from WildPackets) and .pcap (from Wireshark) trace files.

Throughout our beta program, which will continue through June 2012, we’ve received a lot of great responses from our users. Below are a few of their favorite features as well as some of our own.

Here are five cool things you can do with Compass!

1. Capture and aggregate network traffic.
In Compass Live it is very easy to capture and aggregate traffic from multiple wired and wireless adapters. Simply enable the adapters you wish to monitor, and click the play button. Wired and wireless traffic can even be mixed together.

2. Troubleshoot wireless roaming problems.
For wireless networks, Compass Live offers a unique signal strength graph. To activate this, simply change the graph to “Signal,” and you will see the average signal strength of your network over time. Like all the graphs in this dashboard, you have the ability to dissect signal strength, and view it from a protocol or particular node viewpoint, making it easy to troubleshoot signal strength problems for specific users or access points.

A very useful application of the wireless signal strength feature is for analysing wireless roaming. Let’s assume we’re using the aggregation feature within Compass and simultaneously monitoring channels 1, 6, and 11 in the b/g range; these being the active channels in our WLAN. Because we can track the signal strength of a specific node, we can easily determine if a user is mobile and if so, when they roam, or move from one AP to another. If the signal strength is changing in a specific direction (either increasing or decreasing), that node is most probably mobile. And if the signal strength is going down, at some point we should see the signal strength spike back up, indicating that the node has roamed to another AP on a different channel. This provides an entire history of the “roam,” letting us know how much the signal strength degraded before the wireless client decided it was time to roam and how long it took the data to begin flowing again once the user was associated with the new AP. This information is critical is assessing the overall health of your network for handling time-sensitive applications, like voice over Wi-Fi (VoFi).

3. See both sides of traffic with Transmit and Receive statistics.
For the more detail-oriented protocol analysts, there’s the transmit/receive option on Compass Live. With a single click, you can change the view to show the network traffic going in and out of your total network, or out of individual nodes or groups of nodes. Understanding this characteristic is critical when performing baseline assessments of your network.

4. Zoom in and out of conversations.
Compass Live can provide you with both a holistic picture of your network activity as well as the details. For example, if you are interested in seeing a larger view of what has just happened on your network, you can easily open a Compass project. A Compass project opens up all the files you captured simultaneously, and then graphs the activity that occurred on your network during this time period — traditionally, you would have to open each file individually for analysis. This ability provides you with an easily understandable view of how your network functioned or did not function for a select period of time.

Now, if you want a more detailed view, zoom in on a few seconds of data, and click the millisecond button. This will expand the view from one second granularity to millisecond granularity, allowing you to view in detail the specific conversations that created the network spike. Seeing these specific details will help you determine if there is a need for more detailed packet analysis. The screenshots below show how you can go from the seconds view to milliseconds view, and then from the milliseconds view how you can zoom into just the few milliseconds you are interested in. Talk about finding the needle in the haystack!

5. Generating HTML reports.
The HTML reporting function in Compass Live generates a one page dashboard style HTML report. The report consists of the time line graph with the selected nodes and protocols. This makes it very easy to make changes to the interactive dashboard quickly, and then generate exactly the data you need in the HTML report. The HTML report can then be published for others.

If you are interested in testing Compass Live please join our Beta program. We’ll be updating this application more in 2012, and we always appreciate feedback from our users. To learn more about Compass Live, check out this free OnDemand webcast.

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