by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Kirk Thomas is one of the lucky ones. Because he’s a network guru, conducting his business over the Internet is a natural fit.
That means, as his wife, Karen, says, “He can work anywhere he wants.”
In 2000, the couple decided “anywhere” meant here and they moved themselves, their five children and their business to Sequim, relocating from Covington.
“We wanted to be off the I-5 corridor,” Kirk said.
But “without a change in altitude or climate,” Karen added.
So far it seems like a perfect fit as both the children and the business have grown rapidly.
Start it up
Kirk and Karen started their company, Northwest Performance Software, in 1995 based on Kirk’s simple, but valuable, insight.
As a computer specialist with Boeing, Kirk used many tools that were available on the then-primitive Internet, but most were written in Unix, while the newfangled Windows clearly was becoming the go-to operating system for most computer users. The tools also were scattered about.
“I thought,” Kirk said, “Let’s put them together.”
Kirk rewrote a few programs, bundled them and put the package up for sale for $10. A few months later, he added a few more tools.
“It was surprisingly popular,” Karen said.
Kirk said the bundle soon received some ink in a few publications and then the company “took off.”
Those who are familiar with the technical aspects of networks will recognize the names of some of the tools: ping, traceroute, whois, finger. For the newbies, suffice to say they help those who run intra-office and external networks learn who is sending what and how and where.
For example, at its most basic, whois is used to determine the owner of a given website. Traceroute allows the user to see all the computers that an electronic communication passed through.
The NetScan package is mostly purchased by network engineers “who want to have everything at their fingertips,” Kirk said.
They turn to NetScan Tools Pro, which sells for $249 for a lifetime license. Northwest also sells annual updates and maintenance packages for the Pro version. Amateurs and newcomers can check it out by downloading NetScan Tools Basic, a free introductory package.
Feds show interest
Not surprisingly, some of the tools also are of interest to law enforcement officials — “mostly at the federal level,” Kirk said. He added that he’s not really sure what they use the 13 tools in the NetScan Tools LE (law enforcement) package for, though he knows it’s useful in training those who are learning how the Internet and local networks operate.
“They don’t really tell me,” Kirk said, adding some of those who purchase the package “don’t even like us to use their initials.”
Other tools Kirk has developed on his own also are quite useful, including a device that allows the capture of packets. Networks, including the Internet, don’t send out data like water from a hose; rather the information is broken down into smaller pieces that are re-assembled at the receiving computer.
With Northwest’s Packet Capture software, a user can scan the individual packets to see what each includes.
Kirk’s software products also can be used to create “weird packets” — packets that aren’t constructed according to established rules. Security experts send these to computers and firewalls (computer protective barriers) to see what impact these “weird packets” will have.
The list of tools goes on and on, including the company’s new Managed Switchport Mapping tools. Every computer network will include boxes of switches into which devices are plugged.
Put much too simply, Northwest’s new tool allows the network administrator to determine exactly what piece of hardware is plugged into each port. “That’s important, even for a small company,” Kirk said.
Two weeks ago the company announced the release of the latest version of NetScan Tools Pro. Kirk said the early response has been very promising, with their many customers seeking more information.
Among the customers of this little Sequim business: “Just about every Fortune 500 company you can think of,” Kirk said.
For more on the company, visit www.netscantools.com.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.