As network engineers/analysts/administrators, we’re always looking to add to our list of tools. Whether these are pieces of software, tidbits of script, or physical tools, anything that helps us in the performance of our day to day work is something we tend to hang on to and use again and again. More often than not these tools are manifested out of a need to make a specific task more efficient, or less mundane, especially if you don’t have a junior analyst around to give all that work to.
One such task is identifying or tracing a switch port. In a perfect world, all of the network drops in a building would have accurate labels that never fade or fall off, that correspond precisely to the switch and port that they connect to, and cables that never get arbitrarily moved between ports, and of course accurate port descriptions on the switches themselves. In this world, there’s no need for any kind of tool to trace a cable or drop, is there?
Sadly that perfect world rarely exists. Even in new construction the natural entropy of networks ensures that wall jack labels, punch panels, and switch ports all become muddled, and more often than not one or more of those pieces is incorrect. This leads to a need to verify and ensure the information you have is accurate, and the need for another tool.
Now, cable tracing isn’t new, and tools for tracing cables have been around for a very long time. Often these come in the form of a probe and tone set, where one device is connected to the cable and it sends a tone along the wires, which can then be traced with a probe that listens for this tone. One simply waves the magic wand around all of your cables and wait for the one that provides tone, that must be the right cable! Well, not so fast, as crosstalk sometimes causes that tone to carry to several other cables in a bundle, and that tone you hear might not be the “real” one. That aside, it’s a tedious, manual practice, and can waste a lot of time if you have to repeat the task with several ports.
Companies like Fluke Networks have, over the years, developed some very nice tools for cable testing and verification. Many of these can be fairly expensive however, and perhaps outside the budget of an independant network consultant or other IT professional.
Enter Netool. This Indiegogo campaign touts the “World’s smallest network analyzer, testing and mapping tool”. When I came across this product on my Twitter feed I was very interested in learning more. This tiny tool will connect to and analyze a data port or cable, and provide switch and network information to your smartphone. It can provide information gleaned from protocols such as CDP (Cisco Discovery Protocol) and LLDP (Link Layer Discovery Protocol) which can provide switch port, VLAN, switch host name and IP information. It will test for DHCP services and display a leased IP as well as default gateway.
Check our their campaign video:
According to the list of campaign perks, one of these will cost $160 USD + shipping, or a special early bird price of $130 USD + shipping. There is also currently a Beta Tester perk that will get one of these in your hands before anyone else for only $99 USD + shipping.
Compare this to a Fluke Networks Linksprinter 100 at $215.99 USD (as listed on CDW) this seems like a great deal. As far as I can tell the only features the Netool lacks in comparison to the entry-level Linksprinter would be PoE detection, and perhaps some support for additional protocols such as EDP (Extreme Discovery Protocol) or BDP (Brocade Discovery Protocol). All of these that perhaps could come via a software update in the future.
I would encourage any of you in the market for a lightweight, hand-held, network testing and port mapping tool to check out the Netool web site, and consider a contribution to their Indiegogo campaign if this device is something you could see being part of your toolkit.