Choose a Protocol Analyzer

How-To – In this article, we will be talking about how to choose a Protocol analyzer.


The ability of a computer entity, be it a software or hardware to intercept traffic going through a network classifies such as a protocol analyzer. The movement of data in large volumes across the network provides the analyzer with the opportunity to capture and decode each packet, analyzing the contents with respect to the specifications put in place. As an efficient tool for monitoring network usage, protocol analyzers help in resolving a number of network problems; such as identifying malicious and illegal practices as well as noticing malicious software that is being operated on the network. The utilization of a protocol analyzer in the detection of peer to peer traffic that is being run on a network gives the organization an opening to obtain a more specific and correct display of activities on the network. Once the offending parties are singled out, the organization can proceed with successfully mitigating the risks and therefore put in place policies that will ensure that reoccurrence is prevented. 

The variety and a large number of protocol analyzer types and products on today market have created a challenge of deciding the product capable of providing maximum value for the organizations’ network. In most cases, the organization has to choose between software-based protocol analyzer and hardware-based protocol analyzer. One of the most popular, if not the most popular protocol analyzer is the software-based protocol analyzer and its availability covers windows and Linux PCs; this means it is available on Windows and Linux PCs, one of the reasons is that of its freeware nature. 

The popularity of this product, however, doesn’t cover for its flaws and limitations. Hardware-based protocol analyzers are the best and are worth every penny they cost; the edge Hardware-based protocol analyzers have over software-based protocol analyzers will be illustrated below.

Mac Errors

Protocol analyzers that are based on software alone, in a significant way, are limited when it comes to the capture and analysis of frames with MAC errors. It is traditional of Ethernet switches to discard frames with MAC errors since the information on such a structure can no longer be relied upon, and therefore the errors mustn’t be allowed to cause disruption in-network services. Furthermore, it is essential to capture and analyze these error frames as they would provide insight and more information as to why there is derailment or malfunctions in network performances. 

Peak Performance

It is practically impossible for protocol analyzers which are based only on software to effectively capture and analyze frames of highly utilized links; however, a card that is designed for this purpose can. Network interface cards, NICs, are specifically designed for communication between client and server; this kind of communication includes surfing the internet, electronic mails, and exchange of files, database queries, and many more. NICs, however, perform noticeably poorly when the need for protocol analysis arises. Gigabit NICs can relatively drop frames in the event of total network utilization attaining between 8 and 10 per cent when protocol analysis is being performed. In addition, these spikes can quickly occur and be utterly undetected as a result of tools used in network trending halving the total number of intervals being plotted, significantly normalizing any peaks. 

Whereas, protocol analyzers based on hardware practically employ the use of FPGA accelerator technologies which have been proven to effectively capture networks with efficiency and utilization rates of well up to 100 per cent. The utilization window, with speed and efficiency, monitors the utilization numbers of four unique channels, all displayed in a live Gigabit Ethernet network. Values noticeably change over time as a result of the possibility of these values becoming significantly high, occasionally approaching 80 per cent in some cases. In situations like this, software-based protocol analyzers would not be able to keep up with the pace. Cases like this make the value of data captured by the analyzer a suspect since the analyzer has been overwhelmed by the network. 

Time Stamping

The use of hardware-based protocol analyzers provides us with the luxury of accurately time stamping frames in FPGA hardware in the process of being captured or analyzed. An adequately designed card for network testing is fortified with an accuracy of a double-digit nanosecond. Typically, time-stamping of frames can be entirely accurate, with an accuracy of microsecond since they strongly rely on the operating systems clocking attributes; the probability of fluctuation by a number of microseconds at intervals. 


When selecting a protocol analyzer to look for one with an intuitive user interface that vividly points out network problems in a way that person with little or no technical knowledge will be able to recognize. A good example will be color-coded icons that pinpoint conditions severity, and that will significantly threaten the network’s overall performance. Also, the analyzer should have the ability to display network performance in a self-explanatory format, giving organizations executives the luxury of swiftly understand the state of the network. 

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