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holistic approach to network management
K. Ramani is Senior Vice-President, Information Technology,
UTI Bank. He has been associated with the banking industry
for over 25 years. He was instrumental in developing UTI
Bank's communication network, core banking application
software, ATM deployment and Internet banking strategies.
management is not just about using software to monitor performance.
It's important to 'tune' applications, address issues like
security and bandwidth optimization.
a network is like conducting a hundred-piece symphony orchestra.
The audience is not interested in the problems faced by the
violinist and the cellist it just wants to hear melodious
music produced by the orchestra.
Networks the world over have attained a certain level of maturity.
Most large enterprises and SMEs have completed the task of
looking for the right application software, fitting the correct
hardware, and deploying other critical components like storage
and security. This is supplemented with constant network upgrades
and restructuring that has made IT infrastructure a stable
and reliable business tool. Enterprises now run various 'mission-critical'
solutions on the network, which are the lifelines of any business.
The reach of an enterprise and the number of its business
outlets have become critical factors for survival. A successful
business depends on the ability of a company to increase its
customer strength through a number of outlets, and the ability
to manage the growing network effectively. Simply purchasing
expensive hardware and software solutions and deploying them
all over does not necessarily solve your business needs. If
resources lie independently 'scattered' all over the network,
it will not deliver the expected results. You have to effectively
manage the network so that it can in turn manage your business.
If your network performs, your organization performs. Network
management is thus a great way to ensure that you are a few
steps ahead of the competition.
Network management has now moved centerstage. Earlier, IT
teams comprised mainly systems administrators who took care
of various aspects like hardware, databases, and backup. Their
role has developed over the years and now, every company employs
specialized personnel for areas like database management,
backup & disaster recovery, and storage administration.
In future a new breed of personnel called network managers
will also play a very crucial role in delivering the business
Components like SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol)
and agents that record disk space, memory usage, and CPU usage
are vital for network management. Other components are equipment
like mail servers, Web servers, and middleware. The style
of management has to change when you move out of a LAN environment
to a WAN, since this presents additional layers for the network
One can conceptualize each of the seven OSI layers in a network
as a separate managed component. That will help build efficiency
in the management process. It's important to study how each
layer integrates and functions across multiple network devices
and types of networks. The concept of a single device performing
its own activity has changed. Now, a combination of network
devices have to perform and deliver integrated solutions.
Even if each device is excellent on its own, it needs additional
software and management tools to make all the devices perform
like a complete system. Ultimately the delivery will be judged
by the rate of response in the system. If you use well designed
software but remote Web users do see pages downloading fast,
you may lose business.
Making applications work
Most users tend to blame the network if applications stop
working or show slow response. The question is, if the network
is good will your applications still slow down? The answer
is yes, if the applications are not tuned to perform. Network
designers tend to lose focus on applications during network
design. Perhaps they are not clear whether fine-tuning the
network will give better performance or fine-tuning the application
will give better performance. Network administrators may even
make a scapegoat out of the ISP/telecom service provider as
a last resort. You need to take a holistic view and consider
network management as a strategic requirement.
It's important to look at the amount of bandwidth used by
an application. Bandwidth-hungry applications like multimedia,
video, and large file transfers can cause bottlenecks. Applications
will run better with correct bandwidth optimization.
Much more than tools
Most of the network management tools available in the marketplace
allow reactive approaches. Meaning, the administrator is made
aware of a problem only after there has been a mishap or outage.
But there is still the problem of finding out if anything
is likely to happen. You can address this problem by making
a few predictions and projections that will help define performance
If you can project growth in number of transactions (which
also depends on business growth), you'll get an idea of the
increase in data activity. It also helps if you can predict
growth in the number of users, and the type of applications
that will be developed in future. The applications might require
additional bandwidth to support its functions.
Allowing managed control to each user on the network is sometimes
better than total empowerment. This can prevent situations
where different teams of developers perform FTPs at different
times without informing each other of their routines. In such
a scenario the network manager discovers heavy traffic activity.
Controlled access can provide a disciplined approach to tackle
controllable events. This is a kind of SLA (Service Level
Agreement) that you can have with your internal network team.
So, network management is much more complex than putting in
certain routines and agents in place, and recording CPU and
RAM utilization. Recording CPU and RAM utilization is definitely
an integral part, but the entire picture is not visible. You
also need to look at the nitty-gritties which include even
distribution of applications, controlling how the applications
are used, and scheduling of events.
With the growing complexity of network management it may not
be possible for an organization to continuously employ people
to manage the growing events. The organization can outsource
its management requirements. But when you outsource, you tend
to lose control because once you define your problem areas,
those areas may become the primary concern and the business
aspect and focus may take a back seat. There must be a balance
between what the service provider is going to provide and
how you will justify the engagement of the service provider
to your management. The service provider may be technologically
strong but should also understand the business components.
The service provider who understands this will be the survivor
and add value to the organization.
Security in the Internet age
Now that we are in the Internet age, security is an additional
area of concern. Bank account holders are very prudent about
conducting transactions over the Internet. But interest in
Internet banking is growing as more users are convinced about
security of the environment.
There are four important elements of security: privacy, authentication,
integrity of data, and non-repudiation of data. Privacy can
be ensured through HTTPS (Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol Secure),
authentication can be provided by user IDs and passwords at
a certain level, and integrity can be insured by 128-bit SSL
(Secure Sockets Layer) encryption. Non-repudiation or non-rejection
of data can be assured in many ways. One way is to have a
key at the client end for secure entry into the system. The
other way is to have a smart card-based system. You can also
employ a PKI (Public Key Infrastructure).
Now that you have laid down guidelines for security, network
management becomes very important. The network manager has
to ensure that the security policy is in tune with business
requirements. You have to take a call on the type of transactions
that may be allowed on the Internet. Will you allow unlimited
transactions and unlimited access? Or do you want to restrict
access within a closed group of users until you are comfortable
with the idea?
applications to suit network performance is often an overlooked
aspect. One has to look for the optimal configuration of hardware,
applications, and network capacity. If network managers see
that they have to manage areas that did not need looking into
earlier, it's a sign of network management getting out of
control. Down the line, you also have to evolve the performance
yardstick since it's not always possible to visualize future