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Customization through a team approach.

Newcomers bring service and business focus to IP network management.

Network management is no longer the sole domain of a handful of major vendors with extensive frameworks or platforms. During the past few years, a number of innovative firms have emerged to meet the specific needs of service providers (SPs) and enterprises seeking to manage IP networks and applications.

Typically, the newer companies specialize in one particular aspect of IP network management, so the service provider or enterprise must assemble a team of vendors to handle the complete task, often combining their software with a network management platform from one of the larger suppliers.

Micromuse and RiverSoft Corp., for instance, have become major players in the area of network fault management, whose role is to help IT managers understand network events and alarms, so they can assess and maximize the availability of the network infrastructure.

Likewise, OPNET Technologies has become a leader in network configuration management, which encompasses tools for network element configuration, network design and simulation, IP address management and network directory management.

Network accounting applications are network billing tools capable of calculating charges for use of public and private data networks based on quality-of-service policies and real-time network variables. Here, XACCT Technologies and Portal Software have become market and technology leaders.

At the same time, Trendium and Sirius Software are bringing innovation to network performance tools for network service-level reporting, performance analysis, and network testing and simulation.

In response, the established network management vendors have modularized their platforms and incorporated open-standard interfaces and middleware to accommodate multivendor solutions. Hewlett-Packard Co. has gone one step further by acquiring a source code license for RiverSoft's Network Management Operating System for inclusion in future HP OpenView solutions. The new technology could help HP customers obtain more information from network devices, enabling them, for instance, to determine which applications are using particular switch ports and how well the applications are performing.

In a further indication of industry trends, HP says that OpenView can now integrate offerings from more than 200 partners, to provide a variety of services and management solutions.

MANAGEMENT ANCHOR

As the center of gravity for network operations, fault management anchors all other infrastructure management strategies. The network Layer 2 and Layer 3 topology that is often a feature of fault management is also useful for laying out the dependencies of devices configured in the infrastructure. By identifying which devices in a logical chain support a particular service, fault analysis becomes a business resource, as well as an efficiency tool.

Once devices are mapped into a service, priorities can be set based on the revenue generated by the service. The addition of billing information to the priorities used to qualify a fault further elevates root-cause analysis from "nice to have" to an indispensable management solution.

Several vendors have embraced this cross-domain focus on networks, systems and applications. Aprisma's Spectrum security service manager and application service manager, for instance, provide network managers, security specialists and systems administrators with a unified interface and specialized alerts. This consolidated view gives network operators a more inclusive understanding of a customer's service and makes assuring service levels across network, application and security domains possible. Likewise, HP's OpenView VantagePoint and Service Information Portal bring cross-domain performance reporting to its network Node Manager platform.

Meanwhile, Lucent Technologies has revamped its network management offerings as an integrated software suite. Known as Navis iOperations, the suite is capable of managing network elements, provisioning services and assuring quality-of-service guarantees across circuit, packet, optical and mobile networks from a single platform. Navis iOperations combines three existing packages and two new ones into a single portfolio to provide a "single dashboard" view of network operations across multiple domains. The initial prototype release is scheduled for December, with general availability in mid-2002.

Though a relative newcomer to network fault management, Micromuse has become one of the leading firms. Micromuse developed its popular Netcool suite in 1994 to help one of the world's largest network service providers manage service levels and maintain high availability of its voice, data and Internet services. Today, the company enjoys a 10.3% share of the fault-management market, according to IDC, having doubled its share during the past year.

Its Netcool/Omnibus application, which was designed specifically for service providers, collects fault and status data from a variety of network devices and management environments. In addition to capturing host names and IP addresses, it can enrich network events and faults to include other meaningful attributes, allowing events to be managed from business and operational perspectives.

In May, the San Francisco firm introduced a browser-based interface, called Netcool/Webtop, for remote access to real-time network status information residing in Netcool/Omnibus. Service providers' customers can use Netcool/ Webtop to monitor their service availability for determining compliance with service-level agreements (SLAs). In addition, service providers sharing network bandwidth with one another can use the application to share live infrastructure status data.

Another fast-growing newcomer, RiverSoft, also focuses on fault management. Its Fault Manager combines active object modeling with discovery, polling and root-cause analysis to speed the resolution of network problems. The London-and San Francisco-based company recently launched the third generation of its flagship IP management software with a Dynamic Discovery feature that discovers network changes as they occur, and adds the new network elements to the topology database without having to rediscover the entire network.

Full discoveries are typically performed once a day, after business hours. So, without this feature, network managers might operate for much of the day with outdated information, the company notes. Another new feature lets users group network devices according to the business service they collectively deliver, and apply different management rules to each group.

REVENUE DRIVERS

To differentiate themselves and create new revenue opportunities, service providers are experimenting with a multitude of new services, price plans and business models. To do this quickly and efficiently, these providers need customer- and business-centric management tools that are easy to modify and maintain, and can scale to support millions of users. Several startups and smaller companies are responding with a variety of configuration management, accounting and performance-management tools.

For instance, with its ServiceProvider (SP) Guru management software, OPNET Technologies of Bethesda, MD, allows service providers to reduce the risk of service-level violations by validating operational changes to network configurations and capacity allocations before they are committed. Using a powerful simulation engine, SP Guru provides a "virtual network environment" that replicates the infrastructure and behavior of a live network, including topology, protocols, traffic and configuration information. The companion IT Guru software provides similar capabilities for managing enterprise networks.

Intelligence embedded in the latest version of the software allows SP and IT Guru to "understand" the entire network, including routers, switches, protocols and servers, and the individual applications they support, making validating changes easier, as well as streamlining predictive operational planning and configuration troubleshooting.

SP Guru's NetDoctor feature automates the tedious process of identifying configuration problems that cause performance and availability degradation. A scriptable interface allows operators to tailor NetDoctor analyses to accommodate proprietary policies and to codify years of operational knowledge into a structured, repeatable framework.

Service providers would like to know, specifically, which services their customers want, who their high-value customers are, and which are the most profitable services. XACCT Technologies of Santa Clara, CA, addresses these issues with its Network-to-Business (N2B) platform. By providing a real-time linkage between the service provider's physical network and business applications, N2B allows the providers to gain a more complete understanding of the services running over their network, and to use the information to generate revenue.

At its core, the N2B platform employs the XACCTusage engine, which captures granular usage data from all network and service elements in real time. The engine synthesizes the data based on business policies, and transforms it into business intelligence.

N2B utilizes a variety of device-specific and general-purpose software agents that capture, filter, aggregate, correlate and merge data from network elements across all network layers--from the physical to the application layer. XACCTusage creates multiple, detailed records, which can be stored in a database or delivered to a business support application, such as billing, performance analysis or churn management.

MORE COMPLEX RELATIONSHIP

Portal Software's Infranet customer management and billing platform is designed to speed deployment of new services and to help service providers define optimal business models and price plans, and bill their users. Infranet is a standard, off-the-shelf platform built on an open architecture for integration with other business system components. It comes with a suite of prebuilt modules for specific industry segments, including wireless, wireline, cable, ISP and Internet telephony. The Cupertino, CA, firm claims that Infranet is licensed by more than three-quarters of the world's largest communications service providers.

The rapid growth in the number of service providers, service types and pricing structures has made interconnection and settlement agreements between service providers more complex. Portal addresses this challenge with its Infranet Interconnect billing system, which rates and bills for event traffic among providers of fixed and mobile, voice and data services.

Service providers looking to generate new sources of revenue by offering different services based on variable levels of service quality and performance can utilize Trendium's ServicePATH solution to assure service quality, in real time, from point-of-sale through service activation and beyond. ServicePATH employs an infrastructure framework with plug-in applications that layer services over IP, ATM, frame relay and cable networks--and over data-center infrastructures. It integrates with the service provider's OSS environment to manage and assure value-added services over multiple infrastructure layers and across service domains.

According to the Sunrise, FL, firm, ServicePATH's policy-based service assurance capabilities allow service providers to automatically correlate customer, service and infrastructure information to aid business decisions. Service providers can also manage and resolve service issues as they arise, with a priority based on individual customer commitments.

Sirius Software of Munich, Germany, combines its EOS (Enterprise Object System) platform with prepackaged service monitors that check individual elements in the service delivery process, so that service providers can manage service delivery in its entirety, end-to-end, from both a customer and business impact perspective. An early warning system alerts operators to critical trends in availability, performance and service quality, so they can begin root-cause analysis immediately. Sirius recently opened a U.S. office in Ashburn, VA.

Edwards manages communications and network consulting for IDC, a global IT market research and consulting firm headquartered in Framingham, MA. Comments for publication should be sent to edwards@comnews.com.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Edwards, Morris
Publication:Communications News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2001
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