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Infrastructure Strategies '06

Network Management: mantra for high uptime

Managing networks is a key priority for CIOs and tools like infrastructure management solutions are an important part of a CIO's arsenal, writes Faiz Askari

With the increased number of IT users in any company and the overall complexity of enterprise networks, IT professionals are faced with the daunting task of protecting networks from known and unknown malicious activity. To survive and deliver great work efficiently, companies are adopting network management and infrastructure management applications.

The IS 2006 survey by IMRB shows that Security is the top priority in IT spending for 53 percent of enterprises. 48 percent of companies consider ERP as their priority, while servers top priority lists for 29 percent of the companies covered. Networked storage is considered as priority spending by 23 percent.

Network critical

Network management means different things to different people. CIOs consider this aspect as the most critical in maintaining their networks. In some cases, it involves a solitary network consultant monitoring network activity with an outdated protocol analyser. In other cases, network management involves a distributed database, autopolling of network devices, and high-end workstations generating real-time graphical views of network topology changes and traffic. In general, network management is a service that employs a variety of tools, applications, and devices to assist human network managers in monitoring and maintaining networks.

To combat network security issues, many organisations are deploying a layered security architecture that extends from the Internet to the desktop. They also utilise vulnerability assessments, penetration tests and other means to identify network vulnerabilities

Sunil Kapoor, CIO, Fortis Healthcare says, “Fortis is poised to become the best-equipped healthcare organisation. This means we keep introducing newer healthcare equipment to deliver international standard services to patients. We have identified IT as an enabler. We have already implemented Electronic Patient Records (EPR). To run these mission-critical applications we need high-speed network with no downtime.”

Kapoor adds, “We are satisfied with the performance so far. We have a 99.99 percent network uptime: in application server we have 100 percent uptime and in mailing server, 99.39 percent uptime.”

Security is a component in a CIO’s list of challenges. To combat network security issues, many organisations are deploying a layered security architecture that extends from the Internet to the desktop. Typical network security solutions deployed by companies include firewalls, intrusion detection systems, anti-virus software and so on. Many organisations also utilise vulnerability assessments, penetration tests and other means to identify network vulnerabilities.

In-house security

Samtel India has a cutting-edge IT infrastructure. To manage that infrastructure, CIO of Samtel India, Sudhir Mittal has put in place systems that take care of network management issues.

“We have understood the fact that IT acts as a catalyst in any business organisation. To manage the entire IT infrastructure we have come up with some serious initiatives and developed all the software solutions in-house. To achieve a satisfactory result in delivering service to the end user of IT, network management is one of the key components. At Samtel we are particular about this.”

For complete enterprise management, Samtel has developed in-house software, NAGIOS, based on an open source platform. Mittal explains, “We have around 30 IT professionals working with us. We have chosen an open source platform for many reasons. But most importantly, this resulted in getting a customised solution, exclusively for us. Since our in-house team has developed this, it is comparatively easy for us to maintain.”

Banking on networks

The BFSI segment is also tackling issues like network uptime, network security and overall management of the network. Rajesh Vaish, Assistant General Manager, IT Services, State Bank of India says, “As everyone is looking at the banking sector these days, there is a lot of competition between banks for their services. In fact, all of them have taken IT infrastructure as their driver for growth. So at SBI, notwithstanding the leadership we have in the Indian banking sector, we are aggressive towards strengthening our services through IT. ATMs, customer support, online banking and many other applications are completely based on IT and they are the ones which are attracting new customers. Adopting these services was key for us, but with the massive infrastructure which runs all the mission-critical applications, we have carefully adopted the network management approach.” Since SBI requires 100 percent network uptime, Vaish is aggressive in getting quality support and services from vendors.

Vaish says, “We have deployed infrastructure management solutions, but the service and support of this has been taken care by vendors. We have SLAs with some vendors and they are delivering good service.”

Vendor-CIO relations

In any IT deployment the biggest and most sensitive issue is the service support by the vendor and his relations with the CIO.

Kapoor feels, “It is a matter of good relations not only with vendors but also the concerned person, the administrator who actually works for us. Service cannot be delivered at your end, you have to take it. To get the service, relationship is the key element at every level. We have good relations with our vendors, we get prompt support.”

Vaish says, “So far, we are satisfied with the service support from our vendors. This is because they have understood the criticality of our line of business. Almost all the applications that are running on IT are sensitive. If a vendor understands the criticality of his IT application, then he will provide better support.”

Security and Network Management

While traditional security solutions and services are being deployed to protect the network, devices continue to fall victim to attacks. As a result, many organisations are looking outside the “security application box” to other solutions that can more effectively secure, manage and maintain critical devices throughout the network. One particular application category IT professionals are turning to is Network Configuration Management.

Network configuration management solutions are designed to automate the process of changing, securing and managing devices throughout the enterprise. Most CIOs agree that companies are turning to network configuration management solutions because there is a direct correlation between properly configured devices and network security. Whether configuration changes are introduced through malicious attacks, manual update errors, or network product defects, devices can become vulnerable and place your business at risk.

“Security is a major challenge for any CIO. Companies are spending a big chunk of their IT budget to face that. Ultimately every environment requires a secured network and every CIO wants to deliver an efficient working IT environment for end-users,” says Mittal.

Monitoring and managing local networks is an important task, as end-users seek ways to maximise the investment in their current networks. Monitoring and managing traditional as well as next-generation corporate networks and services from a single consolidated console are key.

In the BFSI segment, the ratio of firms with and without an IT budget is 56:44. “IT is an enabler for SBI; we consider information technology as a key focus area for our future growth. But we do follow IT budgets. This is something we have to do being well-organised and large,” explains Vaish.

At most levels, the IT implementations are planned well in advance, including budget allocation. Kapoor says, “It is important for any project to be planned in a comprehensive manner. That reduces the failure risk. This applies for IT; we at Fortis always plan any project before actually rolling it out. Budget allocation is one of the primary things in that. So we follow the budget carefully and hence we achieve success in almost all the IT implementations.”

Services are also a spending component but that is budgeted, say CIOs.

The challenges involved

There are several challenges ahead for a CIO. Mittal says, “There are hurdles in maintaining the IT network and in fact setting up of the network also poses challenges. Among them, I think security issues are the major challenges for any organisation whose IT infrastructure is big. Apart from this, availability of services and their solutions are some hurdles in sustaining better management of network. Then I assume that vendor support is also a challenge in itself. We need to tackle all these to deliver great results for the end-users of our organisation.”

Kapoor agrees and adds, “Yes, we do face challenges in establishing a secure, fast, prominent network for our organisation. Factors like getting quality service from the vendor become a challenge at times. Other than this, I think retention of good and efficient human resource is also a challenge for many organisations.”

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