Ideal network management tools: still just around the corner.Today's (and even more so, tomorrow's) networks are becoming more sophisticated. In addition, they are fast becoming a critical element in most corporate business plans, as well as a large ticket item affecting the bottom line.
When you consider the high costs of networking and the importance placed on it by top management, you can understand why it is critical to keep the network running, provide adequate bandwidth for the tasks, make certain you control the error rate and transmission delay, and be able to introduce new technology on the network without service disruption.
The increased complexity of these networks makes them difficult to manage, creating a growing problem for network managers as networks continue to proliferate pro·lif·er·ate
To grow or multiply by rapidly producing new tissue, parts, cells, or offspring. throughout organizations. The tool that helps network managers accomplish their herculean task is Network Management Systems.
In discussing some of the problems with various network managers, I discovered there are several segments involved in managing networks. First, there is the segment dealing with the organization of the network management process that is internal to the company: determining how the network serves the business applications of the organization.
The second area involves the technical issues, such as single vendor network devices or multivendor environment. Then there are the support tools required to manage security issues, performance and reliability issues, addressing, configuration, and network traffic issues. Obviously, this requires highly complex, sophisticated software--software that, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. the end users interviewed for this article, isn't quite all there yet.
I talked to network managers responsible for a wide variety of networks, including a regional NSF NSF - National Science Foundation Network serving several hundred locations throughout eight states, a public data network from a telco, several large university networks, a professor of telecommunications at a major university, and a commercial bank.
Most network managers see the ideal system as one where the network is managed "end-to-end" by a single person at a central site. That person can manage, control, remotely reconfigure and troubleshoot any device or component for all segments of the network. It is almost a paradox when networks and data processing data processing or information processing, operations (e.g., handling, merging, sorting, and computing) performed upon data in accordance with strictly defined procedures, such as recording and summarizing the financial transactions of a operations are moving to a decentralized de·cen·tral·ize
v. de·cen·tral·ized, de·cen·tral·iz·ing, de·cen·tral·iz·es
1. To distribute the administrative functions or powers of (a central authority) among several local authorities. environment that network management is moving towards a centralized cen·tral·ize
v. cen·tral·ized, cen·tral·iz·ing, cen·tral·iz·es
1. To draw into or toward a center; consolidate.
The new network environment merely increases the management problem, with end users adding or changing equipment on their local segment without involving the manager.
In many organizations, "turf battles" add to the problem. In the world of centralized data processing (mainframe world), the Information Systems staff had control over what was purchased and how it was used. Many clients of the centralized system In telecommunications, a centralized system is one in which most communications are routed through one or more major central hubs. Such a system allows certain functions to be concentrated in the system's hubs, freeing up resources in the peripheral units. resented the perceived dictatorial nature of IS departments and were upset by the long delays frequently experienced in getting what they needed to handle their job.
In today's distributed data processing See distributed processing. world, end users take control of their operation. They make decisions about what LAN (Local Area Network) A communications network that serves users within a confined geographical area. The "clients" are the user's workstations typically running Windows, although Mac and Linux clients are also used. to use, what kind of personal computers to use, and what software should be purchased for word processing word processing, use of a computer program or a dedicated hardware and software package to write, edit, format, and print a document. Text is most commonly entered using a keyboard similar to a typewriter's, although handwritten input (see pen-based computer) and and spreadsheets. It is not unusual to find several different packages being used for word processing, spreadsheets and other applications from one workstation to another in the same department.
End users can and do swap hardware, add printers and install their own LANs. All of this adds to the difficulty of managing the network. Without some highlevel administrative decision on this individual ownership/control issue, the problems will magnify mag·ni·fy
To increase the apparent size of, especially with a lens. .
The consensus of end users interviewed for this article was that network management software still has a way to go before delivering the "ideal" package. The single biggest issue was the proprietary nature of most systems.
For example, the network manager of a tokenring network using nothing but IBM-compatible devices stated that his IBMLAN Network Manager does an excellent job. When I talked to another "Big Blue" shop, the network manager said they had experienced serious problems when trying to provide access to their network to end users working on Ethernet.
The vast majority of networks do not conform to Verb 1. conform to - satisfy a condition or restriction; "Does this paper meet the requirements for the degree?"
coordinate - be co-ordinated; "These activities coordinate well" a single product line or protocol. People responsible for managing these networks said it took several separate network management systems to do the job (especially if using non-SNMP-compatible equipment), thus increasing complexity, costs and staff. They said it was difficult, if not impossible, to manage traffic flow with data being stored in several places in a LAN environment.
Other common complaints were the high cost of the systems and the high costs of enhancements when offered, the complexity of the statistics and reports, and the lack of ability to provide an in-depth view of the network. The network manager for a major Eastern university says he used the low-end network management product because of the simplicity of the reports. When he tried the high-end system from the same vendor, the reports were so complex and complicated, he didn't have time to review them and they were far too complex for a less-technical staff person to understand.
As a result, he kept the low-end product and says it is a real workhorse work·horse
1. Something, such as a machine, that performs dependably under heavy or prolonged use: "the 50-year-old DC-3 ... . However, he would really like a more sophisticated system, but a user-friendly one with simple reports.
Each of the network managers said they really liked the graphics capability, where the network can be mapped out on the screen, making it easy to see the design and devices. Without a doubt, the mapping capability is a winner in the perception of this group.
What would the network managers interviewed like to see in a network management system? The wish list is fairly simple and with a few exceptions the same for everyone. The first is for a single end-to-end network management tool that could be used on networks that contain multiple LANS, bridges, routers, brouters, gateways, backbones, equipment from multiple vendors, and WANs that can be geographically remote and heterogeneous, resident in the host or subnet (SUBNETwork) A logical division of a local area network, which is created to improve performance and provide security. To enhance performance, subnets limit the number of nodes that compete for available bandwidth. , and managed from a single centralized site.
The second wish is for improved graphics capability, such as graphics of statistical data provided in real time. Next items on the wish list were simplified reports, adequate analysis tools, more user-friendliness so management can be handled by less-technical staff, extension of MIBs to monitor CSU/DSU See DSU/CSU.
CSU/DSU - channel service unit/digital service unit , terminal servers and any device on the network in real time, and non-proprietary as to equipment and/or protocol.
The single biggest shortfall in products available today is the lack of total integration of many heterogeneous network (networking) heterogeneous network - A network running multiple network layer protocols such as DECnet, IP, IPX, XNS. structures. Several vendors are working on Integrated Network A network that supports both data and voice and/or different networking protocols. See converged network and new public network. Management Systems (INMS INMS Institute for National Measurement Standards (Canada)
INMS Integrated Network Management System
INMS Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (instrument on Cassini orbiter, NASA) ) and some of these products have been on the market for a while. One of the functions INMS offers is the ability to provide a consistent view of the total network management capabilities as if they were a single system.
According to vendor brochures, end users can build their own management applications that permit presentations from their own network management systems. While INMS is an improvement, it still doesn't quite accomplish what most managers want.
Sounds like a big order, but from the literature I have received from the vendors, the "ideal" network management tool might be just around the corner.