Cisco Network Assistant (CNA) – Configure, Monitor, Troubleshoot & Maintain your Devices

In Basics of Cisco Switch Administration – Part 1, we touched on some of the basic uses of the Cisco Network Assistant (CNA). The CNA is a feature-rich product with many uses. In this article, I’d like to focus on several of the common uses of CNA. Let’s take a look…

What is Cisco Network Assistant?

The Cisco Network Assistant (CNA) is a free graphical tool included when you purchase a new switch. If you don’t have CNA, you can download CNA for free if you are a registered user on the website. CNA is used to administer Cisco network devices. Of course, you could always go to each device directly and use the GUI web interface or command line. However, with CNA, you can go to the CNA centralized Cisco management interface and manage all your Cisco devices. To me this is the greatest benefit to using Cisco Network Assistant. CNA supports management of switches, routers, PIX 515 firewalls, IP phones, and wireless access-points. The list of supported devices can be found here. It runs on a Windows 2000 SP3 or Windows XP SP1 computer with at least 256MB of RAM. At the time of writing this article, the latest version of CNA is 4.1.

What do I need to do to use CNA?

Full documentation on installing and using CNA is available by going to the CNA Getting Started Guide. To use CNA you must first download and install it. Because CNA uses HTTP to communicate with your devices, there is usually not any configuration that must be done on the devices you want to manage. When you start CNA, you will be prompted for a device name/IP or community name, like this: If you are just managing a single device, I suggest just typing in the DNS name or IP address of the device. Once you do that, you should be logged in and you will see the Topology View, like this: To manage multiple devices (I’ll call it a group of devices), you can create “communities”. Now lets cover the important tasks you can perform using CNA.

Configuring Devices

The most common use for CNA is to configure your devices. Many people feel more comfortable using a GUI interface to configure their Cisco devices compared to using the CLI. To configure devices, click on Configure on the Feature Bar. From here, you can see the different configuration tasks you can perform on your devices. You’ll see Smartports as the first option on the Configure list of tasks you can perform. Smartports are pre-built configurations for certain kinds of ports. For example, if the switch is connected to a router, another switch, a PC, or a VoIP phone, there are pre-configured Smartport configurations for those types of devices. Within each category, there are multiple settings. In some categories there are Wizards, such as the Security Wizard and the AVVID Wizard. You can configure most any setting on the switch using the CNA Configure Tools.

Monitoring Devices

Here is a view inside the Monitor category: Inside Monitor, you will file Reports on your device inventory, port statistics on each device, link graphs, QoS information, event notification, and system messages.  My favorite tools in the Monitor category is Bandwidth Graphs (shown above) and Link Graphs. With this tool, you can monitor the bandwidth of each port on your switch or router. Here is a sample of the Link Graphs tool, showing % utilization on a switch port:

Troubleshooting Devices

With the Troubleshoot category, you can perform a graphical ping and traceroute. There are options to perform both Layer 2 and Layer 3 traceroutes. The ability to perform a Layer 2 (Ethernet MAC Address) trace route is a unique feature.

Maintaining Devices

In the Maintenance category, there are a number of powerful tools. You can backup your configuration, upgrade your IOS software, reload your device, or telnet to the console. In my opinion, the ability to backup your configuration and upgrade your IOS software may be the two most powerful features of the Cisco Network Assistant. You still have to download your upgraded IOS to your local computer running CNA. Once that is done, you simply have to tell the CNA software that you want to upgrade your device, then give it the path to the new IOS file and click the Upgrade button. Here is what it looks like: Backing up your configuration is just as easy. Click on the Configuration Archive tool and you can backup all devices known to CNA in one click. Here is an example of me backing up my switch using this tool:

Article Summary

Here is what we have learned:

  • That Cisco Network Assistant (CNA) is a powerful (and free) graphical management tool for Cisco devices

  • How to backup the configuration on all devices, or a single device with CNA

  • How to use the Cisco Network Assistant to graph bandwidth utilization on your Cisco devices

  • How to configure ports on your Cisco devices using the CNA graphical interface

For more information on switch configuration, see the CNA Getting Started Guide.