User Story Max Planck Society

Detect long-hidden network issues at speed

Efficient Network Troubleshooting and Monitoring within the Max Planck Institutes Berlin-Brandenburg - using an Allegro 1000

The Max Planck Society (MPG) is a well-regarded research institution in Germany. There are many institutes and facilities that form the Max Planck Society, with fifteen in the Berlin-Brandenburg region alone. All the Max Planck Institutes in the Berlin-Brandenburg region are connected via a powerful intranet, via a hub at the GNZ (shared network centre) in the Fritz Haber Institute.

In addition to operating the regional network infrastructure, the GNZ's core competencies include central IP services, security solutions and shared data backup. The GNZ is also responsible for error analysis and management of the institute networks and the design and operation of network solutions. Naturally, network analysis plays a crucial role - the Allegro Network Multimeter has become a vital tool for the staff at GNZ.

Fritz-Haber-Institute Logo (MPG)

The Allegro Network Multimeter convinced after a short time

Initially, the meter was used on a trial basis in a single institute. However, it quickly became clear that the Allegro appliance's fast data capture and analysis offered additional benefits. The Allegro 1000 is now a permanent part of the IT architecture. Gerd Schnapka, head of GNZ, is pleased with the results of the analyzer: "When we got the Allegro Network Multimeter, we installed it immediately and after a few days we had two cases where the tool was very helpful: we detected problems that in the past we would either not have seen at all or only with a great deal of effort." Gerd Schnapka continues: "We use it to make ourselves even more professional. We see errors faster and can take remedial action when we see traffic that doesn't belong there."

Peak values of TCP retransmissions
Fig.1: Peak values of TCP retransmissions indicate at a glance that there is a need for optimization here

Fast insights for smooth network traffic

GNZ manages a campus of nearly 20 buildings, each of which has its own distribution switch. More than 120 switches are installed across campus. Within just a few days of use, the Allegro Network Multimeter began to uncover problems that had previously gone undetected. One example was where intermittently network traffic was placing a heavy load on the firewall. This was caused by the use of network storage as well as other connections that passed through the firewall several times due to unfavourable installation and configuration. These connections were immediately noticeable via the peak values with TCP retransmissions (Fig.1). In addition, the GNZ staff found unusual traffic in VLANs that had not been noticed before (Fig.2). with this insight, a configuration problem was found and solved thanks to the Allegro analyzer.

In GNZ, when working with server administrators and scientific staff, log analysis is often necessary for troubleshooting. In the past, this often caused problems because the computers used for this purpose were quickly overloaded with other tools. With the Allegro 1000, GNZ staff can perform targeted searches. This way, they can quickly find what they are looking for and start the appropriate analysis of the captured traffic. Frank Malisius (Network Manager) explains, "We were particularly impressed with the Allegro Network Multimeter in terms of how quickly you can get to the target when you want to view and analyze specific traffic data, previously multiple tools were used and occasionally caused problems."

mirror port VLANs
Fig.2.: The Allegro 1000 finds VLANs at the mirror port that were not expected there

Advantages for the Max Planck Institute at a glance

  • Targeted analysis
  • Clear monitoring
  • Can be used mobile and in the data centre
  • Quick error diagnosis through graphical user interface

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Locating weak points and causes of errors

Currently, the connection between the backbone switch and the firewall is mirrored to the Allegro 1000 and analyzed in detail to find weak points and possible causes of errors. If problems occur in one of the buildings, it is possible to mirror exactly the ports in question to the Allegro device and search specifically for possible errors. In the future, it is planned to gradually mirror one building, one cabinet row or one network area at a time to the Allegro Network Multimeter, analyze the traffic and optimize.

The Allegro Network Multimeter is portable

Another advantage of the Allegro 1000 is its mobility. The GNZ is a service provider for all institutes and facilities of the MPG in Berlin-Brandenburg. However, not all local networks of the institutes and facilities can be checked remotely via the GNZ. Should a network problem occur at one of the institutes or facilities, the appliance can be easily connected and used on-site to facilitate the work of the administrators on site.

Allegro Network Multimeter: Great added value for network administrators

The Allegro Network Multimeter is a monitoring and troubleshooting tool in one. "It works quickly and reliably, it is easy to use and significantly simplifies the work of administrators at GNZ," explains Gerd Schnapka. "The Allegro Network Multimeter helps us do our job better and have an improved overview of what happens where and when on the network." Frank Malisius and Gerd Schnapka see the implementation of the Allegro tool in departments that operate as internal service providers similar to GNZ and specialize in network traffic. The Allegro is used used to see whether a theoretically built configuration works in practice or has weak points. This is especially true for connections with high data load and many simultaneous connections. The Allegro Network Multimeter's graphical interface helps to quickly identify and extract the data packets necessary for further problem analysis (e.g. for the export to Wireshark).

We want to thank the GNZ, Gerd Schnapka and Frank Malisius for their contribution to this user story, as well as the DMN Solutions GmbH, which made this collaboration possible.

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