Protocol Analyzer Tutorial

- there are several forms of protocol analyser used for testing the operation of elements within data networks.

In this section

Protocol analyzers are widely used for helping test and assess the performance of data networks.

Data networks are widely used for everything from relatively local area data networks right through to large scale data networks.

These networks require monitoring and test to ensure they are operating correctly or to locate issues, faults and problems.

In order to be able to satisfactorily test data networks a variety of techniques may be used and one of the key tools for assessing these networks is the protocol analyzer


Protocol analysis

The operation of data networks can be complicated. To ensure the correct communication of data across a data network, between different entities, standard protocols may be used. These ensure that both ends of the data network comprehend the types of data being communicated and ensure that the transfers take place in an ordered fashion.

To ensure the correct operation of the network, one key test technique is to monitor the data traffic between two points and ensure that the correct messages are being transmitted, and the expected protocols are being implemented.

As the protocols used can often be relatively involved, it is essential to ensure the protocols on any new development are operating correctly, and that when issues occur, the correct protocols are being used for existing network links.


Protocol analyzers

In order to test the protocols and correct operation of a link between elements within a network, the protocol analyser is inserted into the relevant area of the network.

The analyzer captures data from the relevant port or link within a network segment using a spanning tool. It then takes the captured data and reproduces it in a form which can be read and interpreted, although it may still appear unreadable to the untrained eye. This enables some level of analysis to highlight key information.

Often the analyser will include tools that are able to interpret the messages and highlight any possible issues.


Protocol analyser types

There are several types of protocol analyzer that may be used when analysing the operation and performance of data networks. These include the types listed below.

  • Network protocol analyzer:   A network protocol analyser is the name given to a test instrument or software that is used to analyse the protocol messages occurring over a communications channel within a data network. It can be used to analyse the way in which the message exchanges take place and ensure the system is operating correctly. Typically it will capture the messages, analyse them and then display them so that the operation can be viewed.
  • Packet analyzer:   As the name suggests a packet analyser is used to capture packets of data to examine them. This can be viewed as a specific form of protocol analyser as one will typically examine the different elements of the data packet to ensure the correct operation of the system.
  • IP load tester:   IP load testers are a form of protocol analyser that are dedicated to the evaluation of router performance. Normally the router performance is assessed in two categories: forwarding performance, i.e. data plane, and the routing performance, i.e. control plane. In view of the way in which testing is accomplished, the two functions are usually evaluated simultaneously.
  • Bus analyzer:   This form of protocol analyser is used for testing the operation and the protocols on a data bus.

These are only some of the various test instruments that may be used. In addition to this, many networks also use installed network analysis software to help analyse the performance of the overall network and sometimes they may provide self-healing capabilities. However these are not test instruments as such and are not covered here.

By Ian Poole

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