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Startup NetBrain Seeks to Revolutionize Network Management - And Has Never Taken Any VC Money Either

Of all the jobs within an enterprise IT department, perhaps none is more challenging - and visible - than that of the network manager. Employees generally tend to take their company's network for granted. All they know is they log in, and the internet and all of their other applications work. When there is an outage in the network, however, it can affect productivity across the entire enterprise.

Of all the jobs within an enterprise IT department, perhaps none is more challenging - and visible - than that of the network manager. Employees generally tend to take their company's network for granted. All they know is they log in, and the internet and all of their other applications work. When there is an outage in the network, however, it can affect productivity across the entire enterprise.

To succeed as a network manager, a network-monitoring tool is critical to handling your network's traffic and dealing with outages and complications quickly and efficiently. One startup that has taken a unique approach to network monitoring is NetBrain. The company provides IT managers with both an easy to use and visualize network map, as well user-friendly network diagrams that dynamically adjust on the fly to make monitoring the network easy. One other fact about NetBrain that is quite unique in the startup world is that they have never taken a dollar of VC money - the company has grown entirely organically through revenues generated from sales.

Joining me today to discuss more about NetBrain is Barbara Scarcella, Senior Advisor to the CEO, who is involved in a variety of marketing and strategic development activities at NetBrain.

IT Specialist: Thank you for answering my questions Barbara. To start with, can you provide some brief background on NetBrain, such as what year you were started, who are your founders and how many total employees and office locations do you have??

Barbara: NetBrain was started in 2004, The founder is Lingping Gao, and co-founder is Dr. Guangdong Liao.  Our primary offices are in Boston and BJ with satellite offices in NY, CA,  and Canada.

IT Specialist: At a high level, can you provide NetBrain's perspective on the overall state of traditional network monitoring technology, and what problems or deficiencies has it traditionally possessed that has made it difficult to use for enterprise IT specialists? What do enterprise IT departments mention as their greatest pain points when you first start to engage with them?

Barbara: Traditional network monitoring tools do a good job of detecting if there is a failure on the network, for example if an interface or device goes down or encounters high bandwidth utilization. The gap in the industry is observed after a network engineer is made aware of the failure. Traditionally, engineers troubleshoot these issues one device or interface at a time, through the command-line interface (or CLI). NetBrain leverages common network monitoring technology (such as SNMP and NetFlow) to drive real-time troubleshooting through a map-driven interface. NetBrain takes that technology a step further with its unique 'Automation Procedures' and in-depth diagnostic monitoring.  In addition to traditional SNMP monitoring, NetBrain collects live network data through the CLI in an automated fashion.  It then displays critical network information on the map to drive troubleshooting diagnoses in real-time.

IT Specialist: Turning now to NetBrain's solution, your core focus is described on your website as making network monitoring "simple and visual" using mapping. What is it about using mapping that makes the job of managing the network easier for IT departments? 

Barbara: A map of the network is an easy-to-use interface because it provides a visual canvas for detailing critical network information. This type of 'network intelligence' leverages a deep network discovery and advanced automation to collect. The network map is a visual way to combine network topology and design data with both live performance and historical configuration data to drive a complete 'intelligence' solution. Network engineers traditionally leverages diagrams of their network during troubleshooting. These 'static' diagrams are generally created manually with tools like Microsoft Visio over the course of several hours and usually not up to date. NetBrain's network diagrams provide both a complete documentation automation solution and also an easy-to-use troubleshooting interface. 

IT Specialist: Can you lift the hood a little bit on your technology. You note that NetBrain is the inventor of Computer-Aided Network Engineering (CANE) software. Can you explain in more detail what exactly CANE is, it's relationship to network mapping, and how CANE was designed and created? Also does CANE allow the visual map to automate in real time in response to what is happening in the network, or is it more something static? 

Barbara: When NetBrain was founded in 2004, few network management tools existed that made network management visual and simple. What started as our mission for 'CANE' has transitioned to a focus on network intelligence and visual troubleshooting. NetBrain maps, sometimes referred to as 'dynamic diagrams'  always reflect the latest state of the network thanks to recurring network snapshots known as 'benchmarks'. These benchmarks ensure that every dynamic diagram (built on-demand) accurately reflects the live network. During diagnostic monitoring, live network data populates the map to reflect the real-time status of network performance and design.

 IT Specialist:  From looking at NetBrain's site, it looks like you highlight four main product features - Visual Networking Trouble Shooting; Automatic Network Documentation; Map Driven Change Management; and Dynamic Network Diagramming. At a high level, can you briefly go over what each of these features are and - since our audience is largely enterprise IT-focused -  how these features assist the enterprise IT specialist responsible for managing his or her company's network?

Barbara: For all of NetBrain's features, one thing is constant, which is deep network intelligence. Visual network troubleshooting leverages this intelligence to drive real-time decision making. Troubleshooting is deeply interwoven with NetBrain's Automated network documentation technology. This leverages the same network intelligence to create more traditional 'static' documentation.  Examples of static documentation are Visio Diagrams (exported instantly), detailed Inventory reports (in Microsoft Excel), and customized design documentation (in Microsoft Word). Map-driven change management takes advantage of NetBrain's network integration to provide the ability to deploy, validate, and document network modifications in a batch, rather than one device at a time. Lastly, Dynamic Network Diagramming refers to NetBrain's ability to create network diagrams on-demand, for example through a quick search of a device, or by mapping between two endpoints. 

IT Specialist: In the current environment, cybersecurity is probably the number one overall concern of IT departments. Does NetBrain's solution allow for the identification of cyberthreats, and how in concrete terms does it do so? 

Barbara: NetBrain intelligence and automation can drastically reduce the damage associated with security threats. NetBrain can help identify cyber threats by allowing engineers to visualize the performance impacts associated with the threats. This can be done through live diagnostic monitoring. On-demand mapping can then be used to map the attack path in real-time to identify which hosts were affected. Lastly, engineers can leverage NetBrain's change management module to quickly deploy defensive configuration changes that patch the vulnerabilities identified (e.g. through an access-control list).  Deploying changes quickly can drastically reduce the damage incurred from such an attack or threat.

IT Specialist: Who are NetBrain's main types of customers - is this primarily the IT departments of enterprises or do you also work with telecommunications service providers as well?

Barbara: Managed service providers sees this tool as a vital component to their portfolio of tools.  NetBrain has customers representing companies of all sizes.  NetBrain automation is used both by in-house IT departments as well as telecommunications service providers. AT&T is one such example.

IT Specialist: I noticed that NetBrain offers what you call a "Personal Edition", and that is related to passing a Cisco Certification Exam, is that correct? How in practice would an IT specialist who needs to obtain the requisite certification use NetBrain to help them prepare for their exam?

Barbara: NetBrain's Personal Edition software has been used by well over 10,000 users for the purpose of studying for their Cisco Certification exams. Users can leverage our free tool to completely document their study labs, not just from a topology perspective (which most users would know already) but NetBrain can also help capture which configuration changes were made during the course of their study, and what were the impacts of those changes. Users can create a detailed dynamic diagram of their lab which collects all of the network's intelligence over the many phases of their project. This diagram can be referenced weeks or months after the lab is complete to review the knowledge points captured.  These knowledge points can be in the form of notes, taken inside the map, or by show-command output automatically captured by NetBrain.

IT Specialist: Turning to NetBrain at the corporate level, has NetBrain ever raised any capital since you were founded, and/or do you have any plans to do so in the future?

Barbara: The founder Lingping Gao didn't want to answer to VC's, he wanted to stay on course with his vision of NetBrain. Lingping was a Network Architect at Thomson Corporation and knew that the industry would benefit from Automation. A tool that could discover and map a network in record time and provide visual troubleshooting capabilities to engineers especially in crisis situations. Providing vital information at their fingertips and on demand would enable engineers even junior engineers to respond to outages as well as a network guru.  As we evolve we listen to our clients and industry experts; their comments, suggestions and wish lists are what helps us to stay ahead. With the right product such as NetBrian and introducing NetBrain to influential leaders in the industry gave us the traction we needed to penetrate the market and be successful without taking any VC money at all.  

IT Specialist: Finally, for customers who may be interested in working with NetBrain and/or want to do a trial within their organization, what is the best way to interface with you?   

Barbara: Anyone who is interested in looking at our technology is free to download a 30 day free trial from our website, as well visit our blog to learn more.

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