Mastering Management

IT infrastructures continue to expand and, as such, enterprises are faced with deploying a multitude of management solutions to monitor devices. However, enterprise management suites can help to tackle these headaches.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  February 25, 2003

Network management|~||~||~|As enterprise increasingly juggle voice, data and video in their networks, simplified and user-friendly management platforms become ever more important. And, while the network forms the core of any IT infrastructure, enterprises must also fit network management into the grander scheme of monitoring servers, PCs, applications and storage.

As such, organisations must opt for an enterprise management suite that delivers an
overall picture of the IT infrastructure. It must also integrate with other management solutions and enable enterprises to easily adapt and expand their infrastructure.

“End users expect the network to be operational 24x7, which leaves only a short maintenance window for the administrators. Deploying new technologies like voice over IP (VoIP) or wireless local area networks (WLANs) can become a nightmare without the appropriate management tools,” says Ralf Wolter, systems engineer manager, Cisco Systems.

As such, deploying a best-fit management solution is crucial. This can, however, lead to companies implementing a multitude of different products to ensure that every device is monitored by a management offering from its vendor company.

While the implementation of an enterprise management suite may seem the most obvious solution as it can offer some degree of network management, it is not without its problems. Foremost among these is the fact that such solutions, generally, cannot configure or alter the existing configurations of individual network devices, such as switches or routers.

“We can provide a lot of information, but what we don’t do is manage those [network] devices. If users want to change configurations, typically they will have a solution from the [device] vendor for that. We can monitor all the devices and alerts, but we don’t from a management perspective allow them to change configuration online,” explains Tim Peck, general manager, BMC Software, Middle East.

Equally, network management solutions are geared to monitoring a device as opposed to an entire network infrastructure. “Most of the network management platforms, including IronWorks, are dedicated for managing network devices rather than managing the whole network,” explains Yarob Sakhnini, regional technical manager, Foundry Networks.

As part of this device monitoring, however, network management solutions are also capable of providing information and alerts about any potential problems. These alerts can either be delivered directly to network administrators or filtered through the enterprise management platform and prioritised along with other system alerts.

“Network management solutions can monitor the stress on a product. They can tell if there is a problem with the product and notify the network manager if there is something wrong — either by pager, e-mail or a text message to a mobile,” says Hani Nofal, technical manager, 3Com Middle East.

Furthermore, network vendors also develop additional features or functionalities within their management solutions, which may or not be proprietary. Either way these features are designed to simplify the management tasks of network or IT administrators.

“We have integrated some other features [into IronWorks] such as monitoring and capacity planning of the network utilising the sFlow capabilities of our switches — sFlow gives you information about the Layer 2-4 nature of the network, so which IP talked to which IP and how much bandwidth they used,” explains Foundry’s Sakhnini.

||**||Integration|~||~||~|While it is clear that opting for the network management solution from the vendor who supplied your devices — for example, managing Cisco switches with CiscoWorks or 3Com routers with its Network Supervisor offering — is the most sensible solution, vendors also develop their management solutions with a mix of proprietary and open standards.

“There is an industry standard for management called SNMP (simple network management protocol),” comments Nofal. “It is divided into two parts, the first part of it is standard format for everyone. The second part of it is proprietary and every vendor basically builds the proprietary part of the management [platform] they way it wants,” he explains.

These standards are also used to ensure that individual management solutions will interoperate with enterprise management suites from the likes of Computer Associates (CA), HP, BMC Software, Micromuse and IBM Tivoli. Additional standards are being developed as management suites continue to evolve, while vendors also provide integration modules to facilitate interoperability between platforms.

“Industry standards such as WBEM (web-based enterprise management) and CIM (common information model) are emerging and making it easier to integrate these [management] tools. CiscoWorks [also] provides a network management integration module (NMIM) to integrate with other web-based applications,” says Wolter.

Other vendors such as Micromuse have, however, adopted a slightly different approach to integration. While it still supports SNMP, concerns about the standard have prompted the vendor to connect directly to element managers.

“We want to avoid SNMP wherever we can. We support it where we have to, but we try to avoid it for various reasons such as network traffic security,” explains Kerry Koutsikos, regional manager, Micromuse, Middle East & Levant.

“We cannot go out and write a program for Cisco products that is going to be better than their own. So we take data from the network element managers, and also from other element managers such as HP OpenView, BMC Software, CA and Tivoli,” he continues.

||**||Enterprise efficiencies|~||~||~|With all this consolidation and integration of management platforms, the role of enterprise management suites, or Micromuse’s manager of managers offering, is to consolidate, automate and streamline the entire IT infrastructure. With so many different elements to monitor and control, the enterprise management solution is designed to prioritise alerts and provide a single, easily identifiable view of the infrastructure.

“We take all the data from the element managers and put it all in the central repository in a common language. Now administrators have one repository that has all the data, alarms and events from the entire network infrastructure in the one language — and it is all real time,” says Koutsikos.

Vendors also suggests that centralised management offers its own set of benefits, which include bringing higher levels of efficiency to IT systems and human resources, and easing decision-making and troubleshooting processes, all of which ultimately bring cost savings.

“Enterprise management is all about bringing everything to one location so administrators can manage it centrally. Manpower is limited and therefore has to be deployed as efficiently as possible. [Equally,] if you can have the infrastructure talking to a central point where the IT department is located they [IT staff] manage the environment more effectively,” explains James Buckett, Tivoli presales manager, Middle East & Eastern countries.

Staff efficiencies are also compounded by greater product utilisation, as IT and network managers have a clearer picture of the capacity and potential problems their infrastructure and devices could face.

“Enterprises may be able to defer buying new hardware or software for six-12 months because they know exactly how their system is being used and can plan accordingly. However, the main driver is to improve the quality of the service to the business… and ensure that people have access to information,” affirms Peck.

While the vendors confess that there are certain scenarios where an enterprise may face a choice between deploying just an enterprise management suite or deploying this on top of network management solutions, the increasingly complex and sprawling nature of IT infrastructures generally means that a combination of both is the best solution.

“It comes down to size and manageability. If an environment is small it could get away with our [Tivoli] offering and then rely on manpower to go out and work with the actual devices. However, there are larger enterprises that want to see the economies of scale and use network management solutions to automatically manage devices because they don’t want to dispatch the manpower,” comments Buckett.

“Often it is a cost benefit issue, they [enterprises] look at what it is going to cost them versus the benefit they are going to get,” he continues.

While vendors cite different trends and demands in the regional enterprise management market, including database management, security, storage, automation and service level agreements (SLAs) — perhaps reflecting the strengths of their respective offerings — it is clear that local enterprises are recognising the critical importance of such solutions in managing their IT infrastructure.

Furthermore, vendors keeping updating and upgrading their management platforms to keep abreast of the continual developments in the various IT sectors, Micromuse’s Koutsikos believes that progress in the network space will shape many of the enterprise management offerings over the coming years.

“We thought we had done it all with frameworks, but technology changes… and we have to change with it. In the next three to five years I think the standard telephone will be phased out as IP telephony is coming in. Broadband is also going to be important to the likes of Tivoli, BMC and Micromuse. It’s a never-ending scenario,” he concludes.||**||

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