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Issue of July 2006 
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Automatically managing the physical network

Intelligent infrastructure management tools ease network management, says K K Shetty, Country Manager, AMP Netconnect, India & SAARC.

A network manager needs to keep methodical logs of moves, adds and changes (MACs) in order to run an efficient network. In high-availability networks such as data centres, immediate fault detection and trouble shooting play a crucial role.

Traditional network management tools are of limited value as the information contained within the tools—being manually gathered and maintained—is time-consuming, sometimes inaccurate, and can prove to be costly. The need for this software stems from the need for easy planning and detection of MACs, and also maintenance of accurate records for handling helpdesk tasks such as trouble tickets and work assignment to respective team members.

The solutions can trace all devices connected to the network; take care of mapping and documentation of the physical infrastructure; monitor all connections and events; log, report, alarm and alert for all changes in assets and physical layer connections and/or disconnections; extend network management to include layer-one; and extend asset management in layer-one.

Intelligent Infrastructure Management (IIM) systems utilise sensor technology that allows them to monitor the status and associated connectivity on every infrastructure port. This alignment to a comprehensive database and tools allows network managers to detect and troubleshoot problems.

A well-implemented, fully-integrated IIM solution can deliver best-practice operational processes that can provide a level of savings inversely proportional to how efficient an organisation’s existing manual processes are. For example, for any given level of operations, an organisation with poor working practices will have a far greater potential for savings than an organisation with good working practices.

In a Nutshell
An IIM system should be able to ensure business continuity through facilitating centralised management, and allowing development of disaster recovery plans and documentation of the physical layer. It should enhance service levels by reducing unscheduled downtimes, decreasing response time, and preventing errors.

Security plays a critical role in today's business, so intelligent cabling systems should offer heightened security through improved network management control by tracking connections and/or unauthorised changes in real-time, maintenance of audit logs, and generation of alarms for connectivity changes.

For the kind of investments required for setting up a good network infrastructure, it is desirable that it should offer improved asset, network, equipment and application utilisation. The final goal of the system should be to increase productivity and reduce operating costs.

Gaining the upper hand

Traditional physical infrastructure management tools are restricted to a small element of change management and are known to be inaccurate and/or proprietary. This makes it difficult to incorporate them into core IT service management processes.

IIM solutions, on the other hand, incorporate a comprehensive level of accurate connectivity and asset information. This can enhance the productivity and efficiency of existing management tools, which can be further extended to work-streams and processes across the organisation.

IIM software ensures that user problems are isolated and rectified as effectively and efficiently as possible. Rather than trying to solve problems with only a logical view of the network, IIM system-enabled organisations can augment this process by providing reliable, real-time physical information to establish the location of the user, test the physical cable links for connectivity, and confirm or dismiss physical causes for related events. They generate alerts and traps caused by unauthorised events; these are forwarded to the appropriate individual or incident management system where input from the physical layer IIM system can be used to quickly analyse the root cause of network problems.

Asset and configuration management teams can also optimise their processes and tools by adding IIM system-derived real-time locational and connectivity information that can be used to locate assets for audit or upgrade purposes, establish the potential impact of the loss of a network device, or establish departmental usage of network assets for recharge purposes. Security, facilities, network availability and continuity management teams and processes can all benefit from IIM system-derived information. It is therefore not surprising to learn that the more the work-streams and processes are underpinned by an IIM system, the more the savings are realised, and consequently, the stronger the business case and the better the ROI.

One basic advantage is that it is not necessary to get into network management of the TCP/IP layer to monitor basic MACs because this feature is available on the physical layer. Besides this, the software has features such as advanced cable management, virtual wiring closet, discover (auto discover), autoCAD/graphic integration, more detailed reports, and automated work order process. In addition, it has other features that have been compared with traditional networking practices in the accompanying chart.

Particulars
Intelligent Networking
Traditional Networking
Real-Time Monitoring Automates the process of discovering, documenting, monitoring and managing the physical network's connections and non-active devices. Does not automate the process of discovering, documenting, monitoring and managing the physical network's connections and non-active devices.
Automatically Updates the Database Reports authorised or unauthorised changes in real time. Home made/spreadsheet databases need to be updated manually.
Event Logs Whenever the system detects a connectivity change in passive devices, it automatically creates an entry in an internal comprehensive log. Does not do so for passive devices, yes for active devices through some SNMP-based software.
Security Features System distinguishes unauthorised changes from authorised ones. Cannot detect authorised and unauthorised changes.
Alerts Sends a pre-defined text message via e-mail as alert. No alerts are generated on any moves, adds or changes.
More Detailed Reports Software provides a library of detailed reports for cable, port and asset utilisation. These reports are invaluable to network administrators and asset managers can generate such reports for active devices. Reports cannot be generated for passive devices such as patch panels, patch cords and the utilisation of the same in the network. SNMP-based tools
Automatic Re-Synchronisation If a network outage should occur, the system database automatically re-synchronises upon the restoration of power, showing network asset connectivity changes. No automated re-synchronisation takes place. All updates have to be documented manually.
Automated Work Order Process The system automatically generates work orders, suggesting the appropriate changes to make. Suggested changes can be revised by the user. Third-party software needs to be procured to automate the process; however, it provides no interlink between the physical layer and other network layers.
 
     
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