Keith Bromley
Sr. Manager, Product Marketing at Ixia
Blog

Crash Carts: The ABCs of Network Visibility

October 28, 2016 by Keith Bromley

Have you ever heard the term “crash cart”? One common definition is used by the healthcare industry for a movable cart located in a hospital which contains basic equipment that can be used to help resuscitate patients that have stopped breathing. In the IT world, there is a similar definition. IT crash carts can help troubleshoot and resuscitate networks.

Purpose of Crash Carts

An IT crash cart refers to a movable cart that typically has a computer (probably a laptop), one or more protocol analyzers, cables, screw drivers and other tools, and commonly used special purpose tools, etc. This pre-assembled kit typically saves an engineer time, since they don’t have to hunt down equipment when they need it during an emergency. The basic equipment is ready to go whenever they need it.

Typical Use Cases

Crash carts are typically used for troubleshooting network and equipment problems. By placing the essentials on a rolling cart, IT was hoping to improve response times to network issues and outages so they could maximize network uptime. The cart is wheeled to wherever it is needed and then connected into the network or device (tap, switch SPAN port, monitoring tool, computer, or other device) to start collecting data which can then be sent to the laptop and protocol analyzer for analysis and debugging. If the crash cart doesn’t have the right equipment, data is collected and then fed into purpose-built monitoring tools for additional analysis.

Considerations

If you are using crash carts, something you may want to consider is that a visibility architecture using taps and network packet brokers (NPB) could be a better solution for you. While the crash cart process was an improvement over previous processes, crash carts are an outdated process now.

Here are some reasons why:

Faster Troubleshooting Times – Once you have installed taps and an NPB, you will no longer need to hunt for troubleshooting carts or wait on maintenance windows. The troubleshooting equipment should already be connected to the NPB. And by connecting the NPB to multiple taps throughout your network, you have instant access to the data you need. You don’t need to get Change Board approvals to connect into the network (you’re already connected), so you can start debugging problems right away. The alternative is to wait for a Change Board decision that approves the activity but “only at 2 am two weeks from this Tuesday” or something like that which means the problem will exist for way too long.

Improved Reliability – Once you have installed taps and an NPB, you will probably no longer need to touch the network, except as part of a fix for the problem. Whenever the network is touched, there is an inherent danger that the network can be impacted or even brought down through some unintentional complication. This is why most companies implement a Change Board approval process—so that the organization is aware of any potential service interruptions.

Ease of Use – This is a critical component that will heavily influence your total cost of ownership (TCO) and improve troubleshooting response. With the NPB, taps and tools connected together, you can start the debug process immediately, wherever you are. The NPB management system can provide remote access to the NPB, making the solution very easy to use. You can also create packet captures (PCAPs) with an NPB as well.

Data Access – Data access is another area of improvement. With a crash cart, you need to physically move it to wherever it needs to go so you can connect into the network. With the NPB already connected, you don’t need to physically relocate anything, unless you don’t have the data access you need. In that case, it might be easier for you to just install a tap and connect that to the NPB instead of the crash cart. What about troubleshooting across geographic areas? Crash carts might mean that you have to roll a truck and physically drive to a location to access the network, especially if you have a specific problem and need a specialized tool. This use case is becoming much more common as IT switches from just trying to maximize network uptime to maximizing application availability. A reliable network is now considered table stakes. IT has been focused to make sure that applications are available 24 x 7 x 365 as well. This makes the use of crash carts much harder as application performance testing often requires specialized tools and hours/days worth of troubleshooting data to analyze.

More Information on Visibility Architectures

When all components of a visibility architecture are combined, they eliminate the blind spots within your network and make troubleshooting much easier and faster. An NPB provides you the correct data access. You’ll probably never touch the crash cart again. Ixia has seen customers reduce their mean time to repair (MTTR) by up to 80% by using a visibility architecture to replace out dated processes like Crash Carts and Change Boards.

So what does a successful visibility architecture look like? Read this blog and/or check out the material available here.

Ixia’s entire series of blogs on visibility are available now in the e-book Visibility Architectures: The ABCs of Network Visibility