Visual Traceroute: What Is It (And Not) Good For?

Traceroute was invented way back in 1987 by Van Jacobson, one of the core architects of TCP/IP as a way to find the possible paths, or routes, packets take across an IP network. At the same time, traceroute measures packet speed and spots delays that could point to networking problems.

Traceroute is a more detailed measurement than a simple ping which determines if the device or endpoint is reachable and shows the final round-trip time from source to the destination and back. Traceroute, in contrast, shows a packet’s route and speed across the network, including all the hops. This shows overall network performance, as well as what segments are fast, which are slow, and which may have significant problems. If enough packets are lost, traceroute defines that there is a connection error.

Visual Traceroute, as the name suggests, offers a visualization or map-like view of the network and all the paths the packet traverses with details on the segments. This includes routers, switches, and other network devices. Unlike a simple ping, Visual Traceroute details each hop along the packet’s journey with the name of the hop, its IP address, the time it took to get from hop to hop, and finally the total round trip time.

Traceroute, or more commonly now, Visual Traceroute, is one key network diagnostic tool to find, identity, and isolate connectivity issues, whether segment failures or bottlenecks – but is not the only method. Visual Traceroute is but part of a robust network monitoring arsenal. It can also be used to get an overall view of the network architecture to drive network modernization efforts.

Often a network manager, or someone filling that role, will use a ping to check the network for issues such as an unresponsive segment of latency problems. The next step is a fuller more detailed view via Visual Traceroute which can show where exactly in the network the problem lies.

Visual Traceroute as Part of a Network Monitoring Solution

As with ping, traceroute can be used as a standalone diagnostic tool. That means the network manager somehow has to know there's a problem, have a sense of generally where the problem is, and invoke traceroute to find more details. A better way is to have a network monitoring solution that already includes traceroute, can automatically invoke traceroute when needed or even run it regularly against defined parts of the network or devices, create actionable alerts, and then report on traceroute results in specific instances and over a specific period of time.

A good network monitoring solution will not only alert the network manager an issue exists, it will automatically issue a traceroute to that problem segment or device, and further alert the network manager. 

Traceroutes are not just invoked when there are issues, can be run regularly to check the status of a device or network status, and show performance and problems/errors over time. When errors are spotted, a network manager can drill down into the details of all the hops with hostnames, IP addresses, and response times, along with a description of the underlying problem, so they can take appropriate action.

IT can also specify what devices and network areas to track with traceroute, and for what period of time.

Traceroute Shortcomings

Traceroute is far from perfect, and should not be the only method you use to analyze your network. For one thing, traceroute discovers paths at the interface level, but cannot do so at the router level. Traceroute can also be hung up by traffic load balancers and not able to discern the true packet path. Traceroute also has difficulty tracking asymmetric network paths, where traffic takes one path one way, and a different path for the return trip.

WhatsUp Gold and Visual Traceroute

With WhatsUp Gold, Visual Traceroute is just one of many network diagnostic tools. Leveraging its multi-tabbed interface, it is easy to set up and perform different trace routing processes – all at the same time. For more flexibility, IT can choose the network protocol (TCP, UDP or ICMP for example), and then pick the dedicated parameters for both the source and destination port. Making things easier, WhatsUp Gold offers an automatic source and destination port mode.

Thresholds can be set for good, marginal, or bad performance. The solution can also specify the length of the packet’s journey, the timeout, as well as maximum time to live (TTL), and pings per TTL.

Continuous or sustained traceroute is also possible, as admins can specify the time period over which the trace is run.

WhatsUp Gold also reports the details about all the found hops, their host IP and name, percentage of packets, minimum, maximum, and average latency, standard deviation, lost, received, sent, last number or packets, and Autonomous System Number. It handles ICMP traces and both TCP and UDP protocols.

 WhatsUp Gold Traceroute Features

  • Visualize trace data in real-time using the Topology map
  • Perform traces with ICMP, UDP, and TCP protocols
  • Isolate segment failures and bandwidth bottlenecks
  • Identify response times, domain names hop-by-hop
  • Conduct multiple traces simultaneously
  • Execute Continuous, Timed or one-time traces

WhatsUp Gold can also:

  • Understand port-to-port connectivity without visiting the wiring closet
  • Continually track and document your network as it evolves
  • Automate the documentation and inventory of the network
  • Track associations between physical servers and virtual resources
  • Determine which device is causing a network problem
  • Locate forgotten network devices with or without IP addresses
  • Discover OS details, patch information, and configuration details from your desk
  • Execute continuous and real-time network performance tests

To test and discover more features of our network monitoring software, download our 14-day free trial today!

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