Management mashup

Network management is becoming very big business, as vendors slug it out to offer the most functionality to enterprises. NME gives a snapshot of the sector.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  January 3, 2007

|~|hamedi200x.jpg|~|“If you look at some of the major players that have been in the market for 15 to 20 years, their systems are based on old technology.” Mohamed Hamedi, CEO, Sphere Networks.|~|Choice – it’s great. We have choice when it comes to almost every decision in our lives – choice of cars, jobs, holiday destinations, personal toiletries. And if we can choose between 27 different types of toothpaste, why should it be any different in enterprise networking? But with choice comes consequences – it’s hard to get the car serviced, the job has long hours, the resort has bad food. For enterprise networks, the equivalent of the car’s tricky service is complexity – how do you manage all of these vendors’ products to get them performing as you want? The obvious answer is network management systems, but here too the devil of consumer choice has given IT professionals dozens of options to manage their infrastructure. These range from the all-embracing megalithic HP OpenView suite, to open-source systems. The market is consolidating fast, though – HP and the other big vendors such as IBM and CA are on the acquisition trail, buying up innovative companies to augment their offerings. For an enterprise looking to implement a management solution, the choice can be bewildering. Sadly, there is no easy answer as to which one to buy – the variety of features once a fact of the hardware market has now shifted up a level. What vendors are keen on emphasising however, is that network management deployments should be seen as a business, not a technical, decision. “The most important thing is that organisations need to see this from a business perspective – if they are just here to buy a solution as a trouble-shooting tool, the project won’t fly,” says Ezzat Sayegh, technical consultant at HP Software. “If a business sees it cannot run without its network, that it cannot survive without the network, then it will be willing to invest in a system to monitor the network all the time for the business.” Another player in the network management space echoes Sayegh’s comments: Mohamed Hamedi, CEO of Sphere Networks, says firms need to understand that the network is now at the heart of their businesses. “The key thing about network management – you only appreciate it when something bad happens. One of the key drivers behind the current interest in network management is security – people want to see what’s on their networks,” says Hamedi. “An organisation is at the mercy of its network – if the network goes down, it’s finished. For a stockbroker, every second of his or her time is worth potentially millions of dollars. The broker doesn’t want some guy watching a video on Youtube to delay a deal – you need to be able to prioritise and fine-tune the network.” Hamedi would probably say his motivation putting the network at the heart of the business is very different to larger vendors’. Sphere, a Dubai-based startup, has developed a network management system from scratch, with the aim of offering the same functionality as the big boys, but more efficiently, and – crucially – with less expense. “If you look at some of the major players that have been in the market for 15 to 20 years, their systems are based on old technology,” Hamedi says. “This has drawbacks – it’s not flexible. If you look at what’s happening in the market, these big companies are acquiring left right and centre to try to pad out their offerings – because they cannot add that functionality to their systems.” Sayegh firmly rejects any notion that HP’s management offering is inflexible: “OpenView is very modular; it can be customised to fit an enterprise’s requirements. The suite offers a huge range of functionality for organisations, so it is extremely customisable.” Hamedi admits that Sphere’s Java-based offering has not got the functionality which the bigger suites – especially HP OpenView – can offer. But he points first to the enormous expense of OpenView, and second to the speed with which Sphere has developed its products, suggesting it is not far behind in available functions. Hamedi states: “Sphere is the only product on the market that can show the true topology of networks with both Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP) and Link Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP) – how the devices are connected. Today they’re shown as islands in other systems, or they’re shown as a straight connect. “And if you don’t have a true picture, you cannot do critical functions. For example, if I want to reboot a box upstream from another box, this could disconnect the rest of the network. But if I know how everything is connected, I can be much more brave at making changes.” For enterprises, then, this battle for functionality (space constraints prevent discussion here of all the current drives in the sector) can only be good in the long run – vendors are fighting to offer the ‘killer’ functions organisations are now prepared to pay for. Hamedi suggests much of the interest is driven by security, as well as the rise in converged networks – the need to balance data, voice, and latterly video has meant managing the network effectively has become a lot more critical. And should compliance issues enter the region in a serious way, as they threaten to do currently, the insight offered by effective management systems will suddenly seem much more attractive.||**||

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