How to MIMIC your Complex Network

Date:   Friday , December 07, 2007

American Power Conversion (APC), who develops the world’s most advanced power management software for its complete line of power protection equipments, was tasked by its customers to provide an application with inventory and status insight into enterprise-wide installations of APC’s UPS systems. As the developers began working on this unique application they realized that the testing, which required to validate the customers’ scalability needs, would be a challenge – a unique test bed for scalability would need to be built. In order to assure that the new PowerChute Inventory Manager could find the 1000s of APC devices typically installed across a customer’s enterprise, engineers would need to spend massive amounts of time and capital to build a hardware lab just for testing the scalability of the new software. The undertaking was quite cost prohibitive. In searching for scalability testing alternatives, APC decided to use network simulator – a tool that could simulate their devices and allow the use of those virtual devices in virtual test beds. For these reasons, APC decided to turn to the New Hampshire based Gambit Communications’ software suite, MIMIC Simulator.

MIMIC Simulator offers a unique and inexpensive way to create a real world lab environment. It is a ‘tools product’, allowing enterprises to build their own virtual labs for testing and or developing software, without purchasing hardware and maintaining physical labs. “For enterprise users seeking economies in the evaluation, introduction, and enhancement of new SNMP management products – MIMIC is particularly worthwhile,” says Dennis Drogseth, Vice President, Enterprise Management Associates, a Colorado based research firm.

Moreover, with today’s enterprise network infrastructure becoming more complex and dynamic, a successful network management application requires more than just knowing if a device or application is available. Network engineers must ensure that the network and applications are up and running smoothly and efficiently. They need to proactively identify, diagnose, and predict potential problems before they have any impact on the network. Recognizing the challenges of enterprise-grade networks, an effective testing and evaluation of network management system (NMS) application becomes essential. This requires the setting up of an extensive laboratory with multi-vendor network devices, which is expensive and time consuming.

As a response to this challenge, Gambit Communi-cations came up with a solution through its MIMIC Simulator Software. With this innovation, Gambit founders Pankaj Shah and Uwe Zimmermann aimed at creating a real world environment where the software can simulate 20,000 devices in one workstation. MIMIC simulates devices like routers, switches, and firewalls from thousands of vendors. “Simulating a network is similar to using a flight simulator. The network engineers try out software applications on a simulator before deploying them, just as the pilots are trained and tested on simulators before actually flying. One can simulate an entire network with thousands of network devices to test applications as well as train staff before the actual deployment,” says Pankaj Shah, Founder and CEO of Gambit Communications.

MIMIC includes a recording tool, which can be pointed to the current production or test network to record and then simulate the entire network. This makes testing and training very realistic. Once it is simulated, it is easy to create many adverse conditions such as switching off a network segment, removing a router, increasing the traffic, and under such conditions check the network response and learn from that. Simulation-based exercises prepare the network staff for smooth handling of outages and disasters to assure business delivery. If there is a power outage on one site, then the entire load is shifted from one center to the other. If the operator is trained on this software, he will not have any difficulties and will be able to handle the situation.

In order to stay current with new technologies, MIMIC includes user-friendly wizards for recording large networks, creating device simulations and network topologies, and for providing full support for all SNMP versions, IPMI, DHCP, TFTP, RMON (1, 2) as well as Telnet or Cisco IOS (Internetwork Operating System). The company provides a library for many simulated networking devices, MIBs, and ready scripts to create different dynamic scenarios. “With the available network libraries and recording tools, network engineers can create networks as large as their product networks. Once simulated they can “play” them back as many times as needed without worrying about disrupting other
engineers, “says Shah.

MIMIC is used not only while testing applications and in maintaining networks; it’s also used in many other applications such as sales demos and product training. It is easy to create a network consisting of switches, routers, and firewalls in different topologies. Once simulated, it is easy to use for many applications. With such wide use of simulators in enterprise management, Gambit Communications has ramped up over 400 customers which include: IBM, JP Morgan, VISA, Shell, US Army, US Air Force, CA, HP, Cisco, Intel, AT&T, MCI, Nortel, Alcatel Lucent, BMC, InfoVista, and Ericsson.

Kelly Smith, OVBU R&D, Software Infrastructure Services Lab, HP, one of the company’s customers finds, “By using MIMIC, we can create controlled test environments that won’t change, which is not feasible in a physical test environment. We also use MIMIC for scalability testing. MIMIC has allowed us to add not only a large number of devices to our testing environment, but also to add rare devices that are not easily accessible. It has saved us both time and money, and it has greatly improved our
testing abilities.”

The Virtual Lab
Gambit has yet another product called MIMIC Virtual Lab, which includes pre-packaged, ready-made networks. MIMIC Virtual Labs’ networks reduce the time required to create your own. Most enterprise customers are busy resolving network problems and prefer to have a pre-built simulator. Gambit also offers virtual labs developed specifically for CISCO certification. It is meant for beginners interested in familiarizing themselves with the complex environment and for intermediate or expert users looking to sharpen their skills and move to a higher level. Gambit sells this to individuals or training institutions that are interested in getting trained for Cisco certification.

An important part of preparing for certification involves becoming proficient in Cisco IOS. Anyone interested in becoming certified needs to have access to Cisco devices, but it is usually difficult and expensive to get access to different types of Cisco devices. It is especially problematic when the available device is part of a production network or a test lab. The student may not be able to practice all commands, since some commands set or changed configurations could impact network performance. How can someone preparing for certification be certain that he is adequately familiar with all aspects of a single device or a network populated with many different types of Cisco devices? MIMIC Virtual Lab lets users interact with many different types of routers and switches. Within this environment, it is easy to change any device configuration using IOS commands through the command-line interface or by using a Cisco application, such as Cisco Works. Most importantly, there is no need to worry about making a mistake. Any device in the simulation can be easily saved to the new state or returned to its previous state. This provides a comprehensive hands-on experience with the various IOS commands. When students practice realistic situations that model their working environments, they receive the best learning experience. This solution is inexpensive compared to buying a device or renting a lab.

The Road Ahead
As a leader in the simulation market, Gambit Communication aids enterprise customers in having cost savings of about 92 percent in simulating the network devices. The cost of this virtual tool varies from $1,000 to $60,000, depending on the number of devices users want to simulate. When you compare the expense of purchasing the equipment, setting up and maintaining a lab, the cost of a simulator is insignificant. MIMIC provides a private and portable lab to each network engineer at a fraction of the cost.

Globally, any company which has a medium or large size network and needs a test lab can use MIMIC. Many multinational companies have set up their R&D labs in India and that’s Shah’s current focus. “As I see India, the market is growing rapidly and has become a prime location for our product,” he says. Going ahead, the company has plans to exploit opportunities in server and storage management.

The idea of this product took shape while Gambit founders were working in the network management space and discovered a void in this area. Since 1995, when they founded Gambit, it has become one of the leaders to rule the roost in the network simulation industry without the aid of any outside investors. Today, Gambit’s efforts have left an imprint among the network engineers as their creation, MIMIC, has made it easy to visualize the entire complex network, all on their computer screen.

Company Name: Gambit Communications
Company Type: Privately Held
Founders: Pankaj Shah & Uwe Zimmerman
Founded 1995:
Headquarters: Nashua, NH
Customers: IBM, JP Morgan, VISA, Shell, US
Army, US Air Force, CA, HP, Cisco, Intel, AT&T, MCI, Nortel, Alcatel Lucent, BMC, InfoVista,and Ericsson.