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In Person: Network Management
'Network Management models may converge'

Over the years, Network Management has become increasingly complex in business environments. Heterogeneous networks are difficult to manage and network administrators are confronted with problems like network scalability, application updates, security breaches, growing storage requirements and so on. In an e-mail interview Network Magazine caught up with Bill Ahlstrom, Director Engineering, Cisco Systems, to find out if Network Management will ease up in future. by Brian Pereira

What are the keys challenges that system administrators face today with regard to Network Management? What kinds of technology/products are emerging to address these challenges?
The key problems are constraining costs of network operations, including staff growth, and the lack of appropriately skilled staff to manage network operations centers. Networks are typically growing faster than are operations staffs; operations staffs are typically not able to hire, train, and keep the professional staff needed to monitor, manage, and troubleshoot increasingly complex networks based on rapidly evolving technologies like Voice over IP, which is exploding. Relatively few traditional voice organizations have IP expertise; and relatively few data network operations have voice expertise.

Network Operations Centers (NOCs) thus have a mix of staff skill levels—very low skilled, recently entered staff (who may be freshers), and a small number of very highly skilled experts.

Network monitoring and management applications therefore must accommodate all skill levels, from the very unskilled to the expert. So, for example, Command Line Interface (CLI) based troubleshooting is suitable for the expert, but not for the novice. So a graphical representation of a device and menu-driven features make it possible for the novice to do the same thing the expert would do via CLI.

Tools also increasingly automate routine functions (such as distributing software updates to hundreds or even thousands of routers or switches), and provide templates or 'wizards' to guide the unskilled operator in otherwise very complex operations. In other cases, applications may connect automatically to a central database at a vendor site, to automatically retrieve updates, which then allow the application to 'advise' the operator what to do in a given situation—such as retrieve hardware requirements for a new software version, and then automatically match those requirements to an automatically retrieved inventory of network equipment, and generate a report that lists devices which cannot accept the new software, and why.

What are the new trends in Network Management?
Effective infrastructure management may well be the single most important differentiator for success among enterprises and service providers.

Traditionally network management requirements of different types of enterprises and service providers have been unique to each market segment and corporate culture. However, a number of forces are creating more common ground among these environments like interdependencies between enterprises and service. Recognizing these interdependencies and managing them proactively is the right track to take for IT organizations seeking to gain control of its infrastructure investments and service commitments. Also, today customers are increasingly looking for end-to-end service-level commitments rather than 'islands' of guarantees.

Saying the above does not mean that the management model for enterprises and service providers will entirely converge. There will remain significant business and operational differences. For example, service providers need to create directly billable services, while enterprises remain largely concerned with managing costs and fulfilling corporate business. The common model emerging between service providers and enterprise IT departments contains the following key ingredients:

  • A consistently service-oriented approach, wherein service providers and enterprise IT define their roles in terms of delivering measurable, accountable business services
  • Interdependencies across multiple sources, where end solutions become a mixture of internally and externally provided capabilities
  • Increasing cost sensitivity, which fosters thinking more in terms of business value and less in terms of technology

Another emerging trend is Security Management. Traditionally, security has been relatively isolated from other management disciplines and this condition is beginning to change as IT organizations find more effective ways to integrate security with fault, performance, configuration, inventory/asset, and other disciplines. Such integration will enable new operational efficiencies through common policies across multiple disciplines.

Effective management strategies take a holistic approach to addressing both business and operational requirements. The place to begin with is an internal assessment and audit to determine the business requirements that are driving your management strategy and what management functionality is needed at a technology level. When selecting management solutions, IT management should recognize that a comprehensive management strategy should address all, or at least most, of the following disciplines:

  • Fault/availability/root cause management
  • Performance management
  • Capacity planning
  • Configuration management
  • Inventory management
  • Asset management
  • Accounting
  • Security
  • Service-level and business-impact management
  • Help desk and customer support

For the effective implementation of management solutions, two themes persist across all market sectors. One is careful planning with an eye to market realities, business objectives, and management processes. The second is the need to invest in open, reliable management and infrastructure solutions that can promote shared accountability and control for critical business services, just as they can enable service diversification.

Effective management has become a competitive edge for all businesses in all markets and might, in fact, become the single most important differentiator for growing a business smartly and profitably.

For enterprises, what are the limitations of using traditional Network Management software? What tools/middleware is available to address such limitations?
Most enterprises have an idiosyncratic Present Method of Operation (PMO) that reflects products they have purchased and implemented over time in response to changing technologies, network applications, and problems. Few enterprise PMOs are driven by architecture or technical blueprints.

Most enterprises have a Manager of Managers (MOM) such as OpenView, which provides a variety of services for multi-vendor hardware, plus function specific applications, such as performance monitoring or billing and accounting, as well as vendor- or technology-specific applications, such as CiscoWorks.

Standards such as WBEM (Web-Based Enterprise Management) and CIM (Common Interface Model) are gradually emerging and making it easier to inter-operate and integrate these tools. CiscoWorks, for example, provides a Network Management Integration Module for its applications to integrate easily with other Web-based applications, including OpenView. Another example is the Data Extraction Engine which allows CiscoWorks applications to easily share data they have with other management applications.

Besides CiscoWorks, does Cisco offer anything new for Network Management? Is CiscoWorks limited only to Cisco hardware/software?
CiscoWorks is a brand and a family of products, not a product. We are regularly releasing new products in the CiscoWorks family, as well as new versions of previously released products. We recently announced new applications like Wireless Management application and the IP Telephony application.

Brian Pereira can be reached at brianp@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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