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Product Reviews
 February 2002

PacketStorm 1800E/2600E

PacketStorm Communications, Inc.
20 Meridian Road
Eatontown, NJ 07724
Phone: 732-544-2434
Fax: 732-544-2437


Price: 1800E starts at $25,000, 2600E starts at $34,000; most configurations are between $30,000 and $50,000.

Editor's Choice Award

Installation: 5
Documentation: 4 
Features: 4.75
GUI: 4.25
Overall: A-

Any network will have its share of degradation, whether it is delay, jitter, packet loss, duplication of packets, or other impairments, so it is imperative that real time applications running over IP be tested in a lab setting with these impairments in place and modifiable. In this way, evaluators can assess how certain products work under certain emulated conditions in a controllable testing environment instead of relying on guesswork or happenstance.

PacketStorm offers two IP network emulators: The 1800E and 2600E, which have very similar functionality and in only differ in scope -- the 2600E would be preferred for larger or more heavily trafficked networks. For our purposes, we find no reason to differentiate the two, so we will refer to the emulators as the PacketStorm 1800E/2600E.

The PacketStorm 1800E/2600E can emulate many applications over the network, including VoIP, IP conferencing, cable telephony, VPN, QoS, Diff Serv, and wireless IP, employing one user-friendly interface. In addition, the emulators contain network capture and replay capabilities to analyze and report on delays and packet loss percentages on an IP network, can be accessed remotely through any browser, and can support multiple kinds of network interfaces -- 10/100 base-T Ethernet, GigE, T1/E1, DS3, E3, OC-3, and OC-12.

Generally, documentation is important when using any communications product, but for learning testing equipment, this is especially true. There is often important functionality that users would have difficulty applying or even finding without manuals and help files. PacketStorm�s IP Network Emulator Operations Manual is very detailed and has an excellent table of contents. Users looking for specific information about impairments, modifiers, and other functionality can certainly find it here. However, help files are limited on the GUI itself. Context sensitive help files would be particularly effective when users are attempting to understand what each attribute does specifically. For a more complete understanding of how to set up entire applications, there should be many examples of frequently used scenarios available to peruse on screen.

There are only a few testing products that address the need to emulate specific network conditions. The PacketStorm 1800E/2600E does so, as does the Cloud from Shunra Software and EMIP-1 from CC&T Technologies, which were both reviewed in the August 1999 issue. The following is a list of the more distinctive features of the PacketStorm 1800E/2600E:

  • Multiple interfaces: 10/100, GigE, T1/E1, DS3, E3, OC-3, and OC-12.
  • Unit can be invisible to the network (bridging mode) or be seen as a network device (routing mode) with each port being assigned an IP address and doing ARPs with its neighbor.
  • Modifiers allow users to insert values into various IP header fields, such as for the source address, destination address, or for network checksum.
  • Dynamic emulation with a toggle feature includes packet counters and timers, thus impairments can be time varying.
  • ToS and Diff Serv emulation provides impairments for each ToS (5 levels) or DSCP value/level (64 levels).
  • Nine network queues emulate traffic conditions at the edge of the network, including Weighted Fair Queuing and Random Early Detection.
  • The Accumulate & Burst impairment allows a number of packets to accumulate before they burst out; an inter-burst gap time can also be specified to create bursty traffic typically found on the Internet.
  • GUI allows independent order of impairments; for example, doing a fragment before or after a re-order will produce different results.

After familiarizing ourselves with the graphical interface, which has a �click and drop,� �connect the boxes� feel to it, we were ready to attempt simple VoIP emulation tests. First, we needed to call from one VoIP product to another through a PacketStorm 1800E/2600E (we had both emulators in our lab at different times during our testing). We then chose between routing an Ethernet bridge mode. We went with the bridge mode because we decided to use the Siemens optiPoint 100 advance IP phones that were reviewed for the January issue of Internet Telephony�. Routing mode is an attractive alternative if users want to use other interfaces, such as T1, E1, or OC-12, but it does involve extra network configuration.

We connected one of the Siemens IP phones to a hub on our network with a regular Ethernet cable running to one of the ports in the back of the PacketStorm 1800E/2600E. The other phone was connected directly to the box using a crossover Ethernet cable and designated an unfamiliar static IP address so that the phone would work on its own tiny network. In this way, the PacketStorm 1800E/2600E acted as if it were the Internet or intranet, allowing the packets from the VoIP calls to pass through. After connecting the cables, we looked for the green lights that indicated that the emulator saw the IP phones. At first, the only green signal showing was the power source light, but that was rectified when we awakened the emulator by auto running each port from the port configuration setting, in effect registering the IP phones to the emulator.

From there, we created a new emulation script on the GUI. We placed two bi-directional end points down on the screen. These end points allow packets to run from the source to the destination in either direction. Then, we double-clicked on one of the bi-directional end point icons, entered the IP address of one of the Siemens IP phones in the Start Address field, and selected the correct port of the PacketStorm 1800E/2600E that the phone was connected to. We did the same when configuring the other end point, except we used the information intrinsic to the second IP phone.

Afterwards, we set up one of the simplest tests possible. We added delay as the only impairment affecting the VoIP calls but set it for a minor 10ms delay. We called from one Siemens IP phone to the other, and started the test. The Packet Flow indicator changed from red to green, signifying that the application was running. As expected, we could hear very little delay in the conversation. After setting the delay for a whopping 1,000ms, the conversation slowed up considerably because it took approximately one second for the recipient of the dialogue to hear what was being said. Without a doubt, this showed that the PacketStorm 1800E/2600E was indeed emulating the delay impairment. We then added other impairments into the script, such as jitter and burst drops, and began hearing these impairments in our phone conversation. As we increased the degradation of each impairment, we noticeably heard it in our conversation. For example, if we set the jitter impairment high, we would hear a shaky, uneven voice on the line. If we set the burst drop impairment high, we would have trouble hearing the conversation or some words would be lost even when listening intently. In this way, the PacketStorm 1800E/2600E accurately emulates what would happen under adverse conditions on a VoIP network.

Thus far, we had only tested our applications on the PacketStorm server, so we decided to access the GUI remotely from a Windows 2000 client on our network. We set up the Control Port parameters, which included specifying the server�s IP address, and enabled the GUI to be browser accessible. We then entered the server�s IP address, which immediately downloaded the Java application we needed to run the GUI remotely. After putting in the assigned password, the GUI came up and appeared as if we had directly accessed it. Upon further examination of the Web version of the GUI, we found it a little slower, and it did freeze up on occasion. However, it was easily accessible and was usually very serviceable.

The bottom line for the PacketStorm 1800E/2600E is that a plethora of IP network applications can be emulated so that labs and MIS departments can receive an accurate assessment of what might happen under certain network conditions, making the system a very valuable testing tool. The software installation was so simple that it was not even worth detailing in this review. While not perfect, the GUI was intuitive, could be accessed remotely, and did not have a large learning curve associated with it, although help files would have been nice for learning more advanced scripts. Also, a simulation of the packet flow would have made the more complex applications easier to understand and therefore create. Overall though, both the PacketStorm 1800E and PacketStorm 2600E are highly recommended, mainly because of their outstanding set of features.

[ Return To The February 2002 Table Of Contents ]

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