The Changing Face of Network Management

Mike Fratto
Mike Fratto

Summary Bullets:

  • For vendor management platforms to be effective, they need to replace processes IT developed to get around shortcomings of previous platforms.
  • The management platform must provide all the tools needed for management at a low cost. The management platform isn’t a value add—it’s an integral part of the network buy.

I was talking to a friend who is neck deep in network management in a very large enterprise about some of the new technologies and features network equipment vendors are putting into their network management systems (NMS) with the lofty goal of providing a single pane of glass that has contextual views and workflows built-in. His response, after making a face like he just took a swig of sour milk, was “I’ve heard this all before and each time the platform was expensive and lacked the necessary features we needed. We ended up augmenting with other products. It’s not pretty, but it works.”

One part of the problem my friend faced was that network management products were long on promises and short on delivery. Device discovery was never 100% and network mapping sometimes resulted in impossible, Klein bottle style topologies which had to be corrected by hand. Another part of the problem was self-inflicted. His IT staff would use the CLI or custom built scripts to manage network elements which resulted in the NMS being out of date and constantly needing updating. A whole cottage industry developed to rationalize the NMS view of the network with reality but that’s because the NMS’s weren’t effective tools for IT. I think that’s changing.

The general trend in network management today is to focus on managing the network, not the network elements. Operationally, IT doesn’t touch each device and define port properties or assign VLANs—IT defines how the network should look and the NMS makes it happen. That’s what NMSs were supposed to do but didn’t – or, at least not very well. Making matters worse, IT staffs aren’t growing, but they are being tasked to deliver more services, user devices are growing quickly, and demands for real-time media such as VoIP and video are competing with other applications.

The current crop of NMSs from network vendors and third-parties are modular adding the ability to set user QoS and security policies across the network, provide top down troubleshooting ranging from the application level and drilling down to the device and provide network and application performance monitoring. Under the hood, the various modules may share a single data store or operate Web services style where each module uses and is used by other components. The upshot is that rather than administrators having to move from program to program and mentally correlating information, the NMS performs maintains context resulting in a better work flow whether IT is defining a new user policy or troubleshooting application performance complaints.

NMSs are typically additional purchases which can add-up when modules are added, yet the combination of an NMS and equipment, particularly in a single vendor environment, can be the differentiator that sets one vendor apart from the competition.

One thought on “The Changing Face of Network Management

  1. My career has revolved around enterprise network monitoring. I have used a lot of the major tools from various vendors which all have benefits and drawbacks. In my opinion, your article is talking about focusing on the enterprise services rather than the infrastructure. That is exactly the direction that the industry is finally heading in and more of us need to push them further down that road.

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