Build a better analysis front-end and they will come. That’s what CACE Technologies hopes to achieve with its Pilot visualization and reporting tool (expected to be announced on or prior to 4/18). Pilot (named after the fish that "congregate around sharks, rays, and sea turtles, where it eats parasites on and leftovers around the host species" according to Wikipedia) was previewed at the Wireshark developer’s conference last week. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a beta.
In my opinion, established vendors had nothing to fear from Wireshark. Build a superior expert system, high performance capture and aggregation hardware, easy to use distributed tools and data mining and you have a winner. That is, until now.
CACE is the first commercial vendor to truly embrace Wireshark as a platform while other vendors stood back in fear. Why are they afraid? Why not embrace open source rather than try to hide it as others have done. An example of this is incorporating so-called third-party decodes from Wireshark’s predecessor, Ethereal.
Pilot is different the moment you fire it up. Notice in the screen shot below, the modern GUI and the ability to learn several aspects of the product via a series of short videos. I'd love to see other vendors follow this refreshing approach.
Pilot is more than just a pretty face. It also serves as a data mining tool to cull data from a large number of Wireshark files. In a recent situation, I had an analyzer-less customer deploy a number of Wiresharks at several suspected problems areas in their network for long-term capture to disk. We were then able to go back and manually mine data from several capture points when a particular event occurred and zero in on the problem. With Pilot, we can now bring those long term capture files together to assist in the mining and analysis process.
At the heart of the product is a Google Finance-like chart that slides across statistics collected from one or more packet traces, shown in the screen shot below. The highlighted part is a section I selected by hand to "send to Wireshark" for deep packet inspection. Pilot leaves not only the packet decodes but all packet display functions to Wireshark, a departure from other vendors that merely grabbed the Wireshark decoders. Pilot can also take advantage of WinPcap and AirPcap to grab real-time wired and wireless packet-derived data.
There are other goodies in the interface like dragging and dropping a view such as top MAC or IP sources, conversations, bandwdith by bytes or packets, and so on top of your selected files(s) or a section of a graph. For instance, perhaps you only want the IP Conversations view for the highlighted portion in the bytes per second graph in the above screenshot. Merely drag the view from the selection tree on the left-hand side over the highlighted part in the graph and instantly see the conversations only for that time span. Way cool.
Linux users are out of luck though – this is a Windows only product built using Microsoft Visual Studio tools, as clearly evidenced by the Office 2007 ribbon interface. Frankly, when I first used Office 2007, I didn’t like the new interface as I was used to using previous versions. Once I forced myself to learn it however, I felt that it was superior (who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?). As such, I felt right at home with Pilot.
There are a couple of improvements I'd like to see, however. For instance, you can "send" a statistic or part of a graph, such as one or more parts of a histogram (using multi-select) for top talkers (sources) to Wireshark for deep packet inspection. Unfortunately, you only see one-way packets streams from those source addresses. I’d love to see a feature pioneered by WildPackets with its Select Related feature and imitated by others as a "quick filter", to select a choice of source and/or source and peers, so I can follow the flows. Analyzing one-way top talkers at the packet level makes sense for broadcasts, but less so for unicast traffic.
There's more to the product including a number of output options for reporting in a variety of formats from PDF to Excel. Watch for the annoucement and check out a demo.
I was thinking it would be interesting if CACE supported more than just the Wireshark analyzer. Despite claiming to be integrated with Wireshark, it really boils down to passing a portion of one or more trace files as a capture source along with a filter to Wireshark. Why not support the same for other analyzers? On second thought, that could cause some serious heartburn for competing vendors.
With over 300,000 Wireshark downloads per month, users will finally have a real tool to go hand-in-hand to help ease some of their analysis pains. One question that comes to mind is how many users of a free open source tool will be willing to pay real money for Pilot at $1,295 a pop including maintenance (the projected introductory pricing)? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile by feasting on those morsels surrounding the Wireshark community, Pilot could prove be an industry disruptor, even more so when the distributed version becomes available.