The Wide Area Network, or WAN is the Information Technology backbone of many organizations. We’re talking about network connections which provide interconnections between each and every location, site, branch office, etc. The WAN allows everyone to share resources, equipment, information, anything that makes an organization what it is. It’s obvious then that the WAN must perform flawlessly. But the WAN is usually supplied by some provider and contracted for a certain bandwidth or capacity.
But what happens when the WAN’s full capacity is reached? This is not something you want to have to learn the hard way. This is where WAN stress test tools can come in handy. And today, we’re having a look at six of the best WAN stress testing tools.
As we usually do, we’ll begin by providing some useful information that will help you better understand the need for a WAN stress tool and understand the benefits of using them. But first and foremost, we’ll explain what WAN stress testing is. Last but not least, we’ll review the 6 best tools we could find for WAN stress testing. Let’s start!
WAN Stress Testing: What Is It, Exactly?
Before we can have a look at WAN stress testing tools, we must agree on what WAN stress testing is. We must know why anyone would want to run such as test and what can be expected from it. First, let’s attempt to define the concept. WAN stress testing is the act of submitting a WAN circuit to the maximum amount of data it can carry. But why would anyone in his right mind want to do that? There are mainly two reasons.
The first reason for running that kind of test is to measure the effective bandwidth of a WAN circuit. You can think of it as verifying that our provider really gives us what we’re paying for. The other reason one might want to perform that kind of test is to evaluate the impacts of bandwidth congestion to normal operations. Other reasons do exist such as validating that traffic prioritization or shaping still work at times of WAN congestion.
No matter why you decide to stress test a WAN, you must be aware of the potential impacts of such testing. Network congestion rarely goes unnoticed and each and every user risk being affected by any kind of WAN stress testing you’ll perform. Unless your goal is to observe these impacts, it is strongly recommended to run these tests in times of low utilization, when the impact will be less important.
Why Do I Need A Tool, Can’t I Do That Manually?
The wisest among our readers might be tempted to ask the question “Can’ I stress test my WAN manually, without using any tools? And the simple answer is yes, of course you can. Stress testing an WAN can be as simple as finding a big file of a known size and transferring it oven the WAN. By timing the time it takes to transfer the file and by knowing its exact size, it’s then relatively simple math to compute, for example, the effective bandwidth of the connection in bits per second.
But is it really that easy? Perhaps not. The first issue with this method is the file used for the test. For the test to have some real value, it needs to be done with a file of a considerable size. Depending on what business you’re in, coming by a file of sufficient size could be problematic. Also, your calculation could end up not taking into consideration several factors that can affect the performance of copying a file, besides the WAN. And we’re about to discover, specialized WAN stress testing tools do provide many advanced features that are simple impossible to get by just copying files.
Benefits Of Using WAN Stress Testing Tools
Let’s have a look at the benefits of using WAN stress testing tools. First and foremost, they take care of generating data to be transferred. You don’t have to find or create a test file. Some tools will generate random data, other will send a known sequence of bits. Another major benefit is that most stress testign tools will handle all the math and give you their results in bits per second. The more advanced tools will also measure several other parameters during the test such as transmission delay or jitter.
But one of the biggest advantage of many WAN stress testing tools is that they’ll allow you to simulate any kind of traffic, not just file transfer. It can be important with some WAN connections where some sort of traffic shaping is in place. Many WAN route different traffic with different priority. For instance, database access might be considered more important to a business than email delivery. Consequently, the WAN could be set up to route database traffic before email. But if what you need to test is how email performs while transferring big amounts of data to and from the database, you’ll need some specialized tool which can mimic any type of traffic.
Less importantly, some WAN stress testing tools have extra features such as the ability to plot test results on graphs or to export them to a spreadsheet. Some tools will also let you preconfigure test parameters and save them for reuse.
The Best WAN Stress Testing Tools
We’ve scoured the market looking for the best WAN stress testing tools. They vary a lot in the breadth of their features but they are all excellent and reliable products. Choosing the one that’s best for you will largely depend on personal taste but also on the presence of specific features you might need.
SolarWinds is a common name in the field of network administration and few are the managers who have never hears of it. The company makes some of the best network administration tools on the market. In particular, the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor Is recognized by many as one of the best network bandwidth monitoring tools available. And as if it wasn’t enough, SolarWinds has also gifted us with several free tools, each addressing a specific need of network administrators. Such tools include the famous Kiwi Syslog Server or the Advanced Subnet Calculator.
And when it comes to WAN stress testing, SolarWinds’ offering is called the WAN Killer Network Traffic Generator and it is par of the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset. This tool, like most other tools from this vendor is simply great. The tool will let you easily set the IP address and hostname you want to send the random traffic to. It will let you specify parameters such as port numbers, packet size, and percentage of bandwidth to use. And it even lets you modify the Differentiated Serves Code Point (DSCP) and Explicit Congest Notification (ECN) settings.
- FREE Trial: SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset
- Official download link: https://www.solarwinds.com/engineers-toolset
This tool is really meant to generate traffic, not necessarily measure it. Its primary use is for tasks such as testing traffic prioritization and load balancing. You can used it to make sure that you WAN is correctly set up and that huge amounts of unimportant traffic—generated by this tool—won’t have adverse effect on other traffic. The level of fine tuning the tool allows will let you simulate almost any type of situation.
The SolarWinds WAN Killer Network Traffic generator is part of the Engineer’s Toolset, a bundle of over 60 different tools. The toolset includes a mix of the most important free tools from SolarWinds combined with many exclusive tools that you won’t find elsewhere. And most of the included tools are integrated into a common dashboard from where they can be easily accessed.
The SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset (including the WAN Killer Network Traffic generator) sells for $1 495. This is a price per desktop installation. You’ll need one license for each user of the tool. Considering all the included tools, it’s very reasonably priced. And if you want to give the toolset a test-run, a 14-day trial version can be obtained from the SolarWinds website.
Other Components Of The SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset
The SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset includes several dedicated troubleshooting tools. Tools like Ping Sweep, DNS Analyzer and TraceRoute can be used to perform network diagnostics and help resolve complex network issues quickly. For the security-oriented administrators, some of the toolset’s tools can be used to simulate attacks and help identify vulnerabilities.
The SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset also features some excellent monitoring and alerting capabilities. Some of its tools will monitor your devices and raise alerts for availability or health issues. And finally, you can use some of the included tools for configuration management and log consolidation.
Here’s a list of some of the other tools you’ll find in the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset:
- Port Scanner
- Switch Port Mapper
- SNMP sweep
- IP Network Browser
- MAC Address Discovery
- Ping Sweep
- Response Time Monitor
- CPU Monitor
- Memory Monitor
- Interface Monitor
- Router Password Decryption
- SNMP Brute Force Attack
- SNMP Dictionary Attack
- Config Compare, Downloader, Uploader, and Editor
- SNMP trap editor and SNMP trap receiver
- Subnet Calculator
- DHCP Scope Monitor
- DNS Structure Analyzer
- DNS Audit
- IP Address Management
With so many included in the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset your best bet is to give it a try and see for yourself what it can do for you. And with a free 14-day trial available, there is really no reason not to try it.
2. LAN Speed Test
Despite its name LAN Speed Test from TotuSoft can very well be used to test WAN connections. The tool was designed to be a simple but powerful tool for measuring file transfer, hard drive, USB Drive, and network speeds. To test a WAN connection, all you have to do is pick a destination on the site where you want to test the WAN connection. Next, the tool will build a file in memory and transfer it both ways—avoiding the misleading effects of Windows or Mac file caching—while keeping track of the time it takes. It then does all the calculations for you.
As an advanced feature, one can opt to choose a LAN Speed Test Server instead of a shared folder as a destination. This effectively takes disk access out of the equation. LAN Speed Test is available in a Lite, feature-limited version. In fact, when first installed, it runs as the Lite version. To access the advanced features, you must purchase a license which is available for only ten dollars, even less in quantity.
LANBench from Zach Saw is an older tool but it’s still readily available from many software download sites, although the developer’s site no longer exists. This tool is a free and portable TCP Network benchmark utility. It is designed for testing network performance between two computers and it is based on Winsock 2.2. LANBench tests TCP performance only and is designed for minimal CPU usage so that the pure performance of your network could be fully tested.
LANBench must be run on computers at both ends of the connection. One instance acts as the server and the other as the client. On the server side, all that’s needed is to click on the Listen button. All of the tool’s configuration is done on the client side. You will, for instance, need to specify the server’s IP address and there are several other parameter that you can configure such as the test duration, packet size, connection and transfer mode.
NetIO-GUI is actually a free front end for the multi-platform command line utility netio. It measures ICMP response times as well as network transfer speeds for different packet sizes and protocols. All its results are stored in a SQLite database file and can easily be compared. This tool is available either as an installable software or as a portable tool.
Like many similar tools, NetIO-GUI has to run on two computers at either end of the WAN you’re trying to stress test. One side runs in client-mode and the in server-mode. To use it, you simply click the Start button on the server. On the client, you will need to enter the server’s IP address and optionally select the protocol (TCP or UDP) that you want to use for the test. NetIO then tests the connectivity using several different packet sizes.
NetStress from Nuts About Nets is another free and simple network benchmarking tool. Like most products on our list, NetStress also requires to run on computers at either end of the WAN that you want to test. But contrary to its competitors, this one can automatically find the receiver IP address.
Running a test with NetStress is quite simple. You simply click on the 0.0.0.0 beside Remote Received IP, select the IP address that is listed in the window, and click OK. Once the start button is enabled you simply click it and the tool will start sending and measuring the TCP and UDP throughput. A unique feature found in this tool is the ability to change the MTU size. Overall, NetStress is a pretty good albeit simple tool.
6. PassMark PerformanceTest
PerformanceTest by PassMark software is a PC benchmarking package which comes with an advanced network testing tool. It can test both IPv4/IPv6 and lets the user set the data block size and enable UDP bandwidth throttling. This advanced network test tool can be accessed from Advanced > Network in the PerfomanceTest menu bar.
The tool’s status area shows the amount of data sent to server, CPU load, average/minimum/maximum speed. While this is not much, it should be enough to determine the consistency of the network’s performance.
Some of the tools reviewed here are pretty basic while other are rather complex. Don’t let the simple tools fool you, though. Stress testing does not require complex tools. As we saw, it can even be done manually. But with many tools available, there is no reason to take the manual route. With so many free tools available, you might be tempted to stay away from expensive offerings such as the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset but with a free trial available, we can only recommend that you give it a try. You’re almost certain to find some great value in this toolset.