Network tap - the Dualcomm ETAP-2003

From time to time, things don’t work as we expect them to.

Who am I kidding right?!?

On many projects, things don’t work as we expect them to.

As our industry moves further and further into the IT domain (or, depending on your take, the IT industry moves further and further into our domain) we become ever more dependant on the network infrastructure.

In many scenarios, my clients (the integrators) are responsible for the network infrastructure, but with the increasing complexity, we see third party network engineers on many of our larger projects.

Most networks we’re working with now are mind-blowingly complex with multiple VLANs handling all sorts of traffic, including everything that we need to make our systems work.

Some of the traffic is definitely hardcore - Crestron NVX streams are incredibly high bandwidth multicast traffic. There’s little room for error and an incorrectly configured switch can easily take out the entire network as the multicast traffic floods the network.

Whenever we hit an issue that we can not solve internally with the project team, we are likely to involve Crestron True Blue Technical Support.

As part of the trouble-shooting process, we’re often asked to provide Wireshark captures - Wireshark is a piece of software that captures all the actual packets that are flowing on a network for analysis of where an issue might lie.

We use it often, but can often hit challenges with getting the correct data if the network engineer is not available or (sometimes) can’t mirror ports on a switch for us.

This handy dandy little box from Dualcomm is great, because we don’t have to rely on the network engineer and can just break the line to (let’s say) a Crestron touchscreen where we’re having SIP issues and tap straight into our laptops.

This unit has one big advantage over most network taps (which can be bought for pennies in some cases) in that it will pass PoE through the tap - this is great for touchscreens in the above example.

Once we’ve broken into a line, the tap is powered from the laptop being used to capture (by USB power) and away we go.

We can then get highly specific Wireshark captures and, certainly for SIP issues, we can capture even the audio streams for analysis.

SIP capture

Whilst not that cheap (especially in the UK!), the ETAP-2003 is getting us out of difficult situations on projects, so worth every penny.

We’re all becoming more reliant on network infrastructure and need to equip ourselves with the tools (both physical and skillsets) to diagnose and resolve issues quickly.