Basic Network troubleshooting

First the basics....

My network has a single server with 70 users (all 2000 or XP pro). The server is a 6 month old Dell Poweredge 6650 (running 2003 standard server) with dual 3GHz xeons, 3.5GB RAM, and a 150GB RAID 5 array. Quite a beefy machine but it does do absolutely everything (AD controller, DNS/DHCP, file server, Exchange, fax, plus about 10 other apps).

Our network is cabled with CAT 5. We have 3 switches each daisy chained off the other. One is a netgear 1GB switch (although only the server and a couple of other PC's have 1Gb cards), one is a HP pro curve 10/100 and one an unbranded 10/100 switch.

The setup is not ideal and in the long run I want to add a couple of servers and upgrade most of the PC's to 1Gb cards.

Up until the last few days everything has been fine. But certain users have now started to whinge that the system is "slow". In particluar it takes 4 to 5 seconds for server based apps and documents to open. Very vague I know but we are talking end users here! Not all users are reporting problems but not all users use the system as intensively as others and some are just down right unobservant!

Nothing has been changed on the server in the last couple of days. I have checked task manager and there is a consistently low cpu and memory usage. Initially I suspected it may be a problem with one of the switches but the affected users are not connected to one particular switch.

I realise that it may still be a server based issue but can anybody suggest some tools I can use to identify whether I have a problem with my network? I would prefer in built (ie free!)Windows 2003 tools although if there are any particularly effective 3rd party tools I will consider buying them.

Hope you can help

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first, ping from the stations giving delays, versus those not.  It is a good way to get statistics, slow but good.

Also try --  (free ping)  (monitor)  several free ones here

The last is an exhaustive list of free tools.  If you want to pay for a professional product, Computer Associates UNICENTER is very good.  There are zillions of others, too.

In the end, it sounds like the BW pipe to the server is getting clogged with traffic.

Make sure no clients have any old protocols running (e.g NetBeui) and also make sure that logins are getting disconnected at regular intervals.  A win 2003 login server can bog to a halt by keeping too many logins cached on the server that are gone, and their caches should have been cleaned up long ago.  Worth checking...

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Please try perfmon (free and built-in SERVER 2k3) RUN > perfmon > ENTER.  Also TCP View from Sysinternals is GOOD ultility.  OH, BROWSER THROUGH THEIR SITE FOR MANY USEFUL UTILITIES!  Good Luck.  ~a8le
I believe before you go and start measuring network throughput, you should try to find out exactly what the users are complaining about when they say the system is "slow". Get them to make notes of what they are doing when it is slow. Is this when they logon to the system? Is it when they start an app? What app? When they open a file? what file?

Try making a "questonaire".

Once you have that info, you can try to find the reason for the spead decrease. If it is mainly during the logon process, the users might be using home folders on the server and synchronizing that data on the pc. This is mainly for laptop use, and speed decrease here would be normal, as this can be quite a large amount of data. The authentification itself can also take a considerable amount of time, as user profiles can get quite large.

The same goes for the synchonization of exchange data. A users pst file can get quite large, and this will take some time to synchronize, if the PC is set to have a local copy of this file.
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Gary GordonSolution IntegratorCommented:
Sounds like a problem I had this morning.  Review the hardware that connects the server to the network.  Make sure the connection is as fast as it can be, double check ethernet cable and connectors.  Ask users if there is a particular time of the day that seems slower than others.
If the "Problem" clients are XP:

Hidden in Windows XP's System Information utility is a very good tool for getting a lot more information about what's going on. Go to Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools | System Information. Then choose Net Diagnostics from the Tools menu. The program will ping your DNS servers, gateways, SMTP and POP3 mail servers, and proxies; test your modem and network adapters; and supply very detailed reports about your settings, as well as which tests passed and which failed.

I've seen serious intermittent network performance problems arise from bad (abused) cables.  So you need more information....

The two tools I use most extensively to monitor network health are MRTG and PingPlotter.  They're cheap/free, and you can leave them running around the clock and just check them periodically to see what's been going on.  A sniffer (Ethereal is free) is helpful to investigate with when the graphs look strange.

metamaticAuthor Commented:
Thanks for the responses. Everything seems to have gone back to normal on its own but at least i will be better armed now if it all goes pear shaped again.
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