What Is a Protocol Analyzer?
A protocol analyzer is a tool used to monitor and interpret data transferred over a communication channel. Using a combination of hardware and software, a protocol analyzer captures inline data packets from a computer bus or network and converts the bits and bytes into meaningful protocol decodes. Protocol analyzers are invaluable tools for continuous data monitoring as well as post capture analysis.
To standardize common data transmission processes, organizations like PCI-SIG and IEEEE have established communication protocols to specify industry-wide software and hardware conventions. By comparing captured data behavior to established standards, conformance of traffic to protocols can be evaluated and logical errors can be detected and diagnosed.
Protocol Analyzers from VIAVI
An advanced protocol analyzer can be applied effectively to data transmission channels ranging from a local computer bus to a large telecommunications network. Customers supported by VIAVI protocol analyzer offerings reflect the breadth of the computer technology ecosystem. This includes a host of Tier 1 organizations in the computing, data storage, networking, and electronics industries.
Components like switches, motherboards, and storage devices benefit from protocol analysis as they progress from the drawing board to the field. These components eventually form the backbone of wired and wireless network and data center deployments around the world. Embedded system designers utilize protocol analyzers to test and troubleshoot the data transfer between microcontrollers and peripherals in embedded circuitry.
Integration and validation teams also utilize protocol analyzers to accelerate development times and reduce debug cycles. Wireless network protocol analyzers are increasingly found in a field technician’s tool kit. Advanced protocol analyzer software compliments these lab and field test solutions by sorting through millions of events, mapping network topologies, and quickly identifying warnings and errors.
What Does a Protocol Analyzer Do?
In general terms, a protocol analyzer captures traffic data streams (packets) and performs analysis on their characteristics. Reviewing inline traffic allows the protocol analyzer to produce actionable metrics and reports in easily understood and accessible formats. With the diversity of communication protocols now deployed, another key function of the protocol analyzer is to assess the decoded data streams for conformance to their respective standards.
Protocol analyzers can identify malformed packets and other transmission errors. More advanced analyzers can also introduce erroneous packets for testing purposes. By capturing a large volume of packet data, the best network protocol analyzer solutions retain detailed information like IP addresses, ethernet hardware addresses, and other valuable information for on-demand recall. A network protocol analyzer can also reliably detect security breaches on a wired or wireless network.
What Do Protocol Analyzers Test and Measure?
Measuring inline traffic behavior leads to the verification of packet integrity and identification of logical errors. The analyzer can also be used to assess and quantify communication delays and response times (time-outs). Any protocol violations can be immediately captured and highlighted during testing. The wealth of data captured by a network protocol analyzer also provides deep insight into link utilization. This detailed analysis and timely reporting also helps to accelerate troubleshooting activities.
The test and measurement capabilities of a portable protocol analyzer are as diverse as the applications, protocols, and communication channels it can be applied to. Along with automated traffic capture, error analysis, and error injection (jamming) capabilities, the best network protocol analyzers incorporate features like cross-domain analysis and traffic correlation across multiple protocols.
Other protocol analyzer test and measurement capabilities are specific to the technology or standard being tested. A PCIe or NVMe protocol analyzer might include dynamic queue updates, integrated trace views, and simultaneous multi-lane analysis. Serial attached SCSI (SAS) and Serial ATA (SATA) protocol analyzers are designed to address the unique demands of these high-speed serial bus platforms with features like non-intrusive monitoring and large memory trace buffers.
Types of Protocol Analyzers
Protocol analyzers for all common standards and applications are now available, including many which operate effectively in multi-protocol environments. Unique among protocol analyzer manufacturers, VIAVI has developed a family of diverse and powerful solutions that make cutting-edge analysis and reporting accessible to all industries and skill levels.
Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) has become the industry standard bussing convention for high-speed component connections to the motherboard. PCIe has entered its fifth backwards compatible generation with the release of PCIe 5.0. Speed doubling with each successive iteration has created unique challenges for a PCIe protocol analyzer. VIAVI has successfully mitigated these complexities with an industry leading line of PCIe protocol analyzers, jammers, and protocol analyzer software.
Superior memory, high storage capacity, and alternate protocol support are some of the advanced test features that support the PCIe 5.0 protocol. The Xgig 5P8 analyzer platform provides 64GB for both upstream and downstream traffic capture along with onboard jamming capability and memory segmentation for multi-trace capture. NVMe traffic decoding is also supported for all layers of the stack.
SAS / SATA
The SAS and SATA protocols define the data transfer between high volume storage devices and their host systems. The SAS protocol for directly attached devices like hard drives emerged from the parallel SCSI bus technology of the 1980’s. At the same time, the SATA protocol evolved from the parallel interface ATA (PATA) standard. These protocols have gained widespread industry acceptance, leading to dedicated protocol analysis solutions for product development and troubleshooting.
The VIAVI Xgig 6G SAS/SATA analyzer meets the exacting demands of SAS and SATA innovators. Multiple trace capture and the industry’s largest trace memory buffers facilitate outstanding monitoring and troubleshooting performance. 100% capture at full line rate provides complete visibility into SAS and SATA behavior. The Xgig 6G platform can also analyze live traffic from almost 200 different storage protocols.
Gigabit Ethernet / Fibre Channel
Gigabit Ethernet (GE) is capable of transmitting network data at an astounding clip of 1 gigabit per second and has become a key enabler for high throughput network links. To operate effectively, all components of the gigabit ethernet network must conform to established IEEE protocols. Fibre Channel (FC) is an additional high-speed data transfer protocol used for storage area networks (SAN) and data transfer between commercial data centers.
A network protocol analyzer with versatile test and analysis capabilities for both network technologies is the Xgig 1000 32/128 G FC & 25/50/100 GE analyzer. This comprehensive instrument performs non-intrusive inline data capture and jamming. Unprecedented visibility into PHY layer operation, including link training and forward error correction (FEC) functions, accelerates debugging and time-to-market. An intuitive user interface provides real time performance data for every link.
What Happens If You Don’t Use a Protocol Analyzer?
Protocol analyzer output in the form of actionable reports, metrics, and recommendations are only achieved through comprehensive packet capture and direct visibility into inline traffic. Alternatives to protocol analyzer technology cannot provide the same convenience and insight into traffic type, errors, and overall protocol conformance. In the absence of this valuable tool, traffic can only be assessed through indirect measurement or endpoint performance review.
Traditional test tools like oscilloscopes remain useful for many types of electrical testing but can provide only a time-consuming and inconvenient alternative to a protocol analyzer. With the wide variety of components and interfaces now requiring protocol analysis in the lab and field, this added efficiency can translate to accelerated time to market and millions of dollars saved in engineering resources. A portable protocol analyzer is the only logical choice for controlled protocol testing and unwavering confidence in protocol conformance.
How is VIAVI Advancing the Protocol Analyzer Market?
Each network communication and computer bus protocol has evolved and adapted to enhance performance and promote interoperability. VIAVI protocol analyzers, jammers, and analysis software advance the protocol analyzer market by providing the rapid error detection, real-time tuning, and comprehensive reporting capabilities that lead to informed test results and unparalleled troubleshooting.
Advanced post-capture analysis has placed VIAVI protocol analyzers in a category of their own. By automatically computing thousands of protocol metrics and statistics, data can be systematically analyzed and interpreted, sparing users from time-consuming calculations and trace review. Expert software converts captured data to user-friendly graphs and tables without requiring expert level protocol knowledge.
PCIe, NVMe, and Gigabit Ethernet are just a few of the leading technologies demanding higher throughput, lower overhead, and reduced error rates over increasingly complex protocols. Through a dedication to technology and unwavering customer support, VIAVI is positioned to lead the thriving protocol analyzer market for decades to come.