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Exploring availability monitoring tools for larger networks

The leading enterprise network monitoring tools offer a variety of features, licensing, support and maintenance options designed for medium and larger network environments.

No enterprise can function efficiently without the use of network availability monitoring tools. Assessing and troubleshooting network devices to ensure their availability is a fundamental requirement in today's data centers -- especially as demand for always-accessible applications and services continues to build.

Although no one tool fits every network, understanding your organization's requirements and the complexity of your network will help determine which availability monitoring tools will offer the most benefit. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of tools that address networks of all sizes -- from the smallest of businesses to very large organizations and service providers. 

CA Spectrum

Designed for managing infrastructure in large enterprises, CA Spectrum can monitor networks with tens of thousands of devices. The Spectrum network monitoring tool can discover a wide range of network and non-network devices, and organize them into Layer 2 and Layer 3 topology maps that it updates regularly and automatically. Its service-aware network management capability can discover, model, monitor and manage how infrastructure supports the business services that run over the network.

Spectrum uses Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) for polling network devices and collecting event information. It can also collect traps and data from other network management tools, and then integrate them into its analysis.

Spectrum can monitor physical, virtual and cloud-based network elements. It supports integration with CA Unified Infrastructure Management -- formerly Nimsoft -- to provide server monitoring. Spectrum integrates with many other CA products, including its application performance management system and service desk product, and it provides integration with third-party management systems. The Spectrum mobile application lets administrators view the top 100 alarms on their mobile devices.

CA Spectrum's intelligent fault detection capability does automated root-cause analysis of network problems. It also performs event correlation to suppress alarms that are merely symptomatic of the core problem.

The system includes a change management capability that can track and control configuration changes on the network. It can correlate network problems to configuration changes, which helps network managers diagnose a change-based problem and remediate it quickly from the same interface. It also offers customizable role-based views into reports, alerts and dashboards, so users can interact with the tool based on their skills and knowledge.

Spectrum 10.2 is deployed as a single software image on a server, with its database and polling engine embedded. This simplifies deployment and administration, but limits customizability of the platform -- for example, customers can't use a third-party database. But CA's features and functions running on top of the platform are highly customizable. Spectrum runs on Windows Server 2008 SP2 or newer, Linux or Solaris servers.

CA offers a tiered, device-based licensing model for Spectrum. Both perpetual and subscription licenses are available. The company offers local, live customer support and offshore, after-hours support. It also maintains a customer portal featuring peer-based community discussions and a knowledge center. CA offers optional professional services for implementing Spectrum, as well as product training.

Entuity Network Management

Entuity Network Management is a unified availability monitoring system that's designed to serve medium to large enterprises. BMC Software resells this product as the network monitoring component of its business service management suite.

Entuity can automatically discover and collect a wide range of information on network devices, including SNMP, syslog, Link Layer Discovery Protocol, flow and quality of service. It automatically performs periodic scans to discover any new devices added to the network. It will also discover some non-networking equipment, although it's primarily sold as a network monitoring system. It can also discover and monitor virtual infrastructure, including VMware, Oracle, and Microsoft hypervisors and underlying virtual switches, as well as Cisco's physical and virtual line of Nexus switches.

Entuity automatically builds a topology map with the devices it discovers, monitors network faults and performance, and offers reporting on all the data it collects and monitors. It has built-in inventory and asset management features, and it monitors configuration changes, providing alerts for out-of-policy changes.

The product offers an embedded and customizable event management system that performs root-cause analysis to organize alarms into aggregated incidents. Unresolved incidents can automatically trigger escalations to ensure important alarms aren't ignored.

Entuity's web-based management console enables non-IT users to create portals into the system. These portals are useful for IT-business alignment and for managed service providers that want to give customers visibility into services they provide. Entuity reporting capabilities can be customized via a collection of wizards, templates and scripts.

The product's Integrated Flow Analyzer collects and analyzes network flow records, including NetFlow and IPFIX to monitor network traffic flows. The free version of this feature can collect and analyze up to two hours of flows in five-minute aggregates, or 35 days of flows in daily aggregates. A premium version offers one-minute flow monitoring intervals with advanced features.

With version 16.5, introduced in fall 2016, Entuity introduced SurePath, a network path analysis tool that automatically discovers the network path between any two devices and displays a hop-by-hop topology map of the path. SurePath integrates with Entuity Network Management, giving customers a visual tool for optimizing and troubleshooting network devices they monitor with the company's network availability monitoring product.

Entuity offers a fully featured 30-day free trial of its software. The company offers both device- and object-based licensing. It sells a perpetual license with maintenance and a subscription-based license. The product installs on a single server with its database and polling engines fully embedded. It can also be installed as a virtual machine on a hypervisor.

Entuity Network Management is designed to scale up for very large networks, and customers aren't charged extra license fees if they add servers to scale out a deployment. The product integrates with several third-party event management products and IT infrastructure management software from BMC, Oracle, IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Entuity products can be purchased through registered resellers.

Entuity offers optional professional services, as well as live and online training and certifications on its products.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise Network Node Manager i

Network Node Manager i (NNMi) is designed to manage the networks of large enterprises, and it's also used by service providers and mobile network operators. In addition to basic availability monitoring, it also serves as a performance management system.

The product's advanced automated discovery feature can pull a wide range of data from the network devices it finds, including configuration information, virtual LANs and physical connections between devices. NNMi automatically generates Layer 2 and 3 topology maps with this discovered data from which users can monitor their networks. NNMi can also discover and monitor a large number of non-network devices.

NNMi's alarm management function includes event correlation and alarm suppression features that limit users from being hit by event storms. It also has an add-on inventory and asset management module.

NNMi's customizable, web-based console lets users tweak various data views and dashboards to fit their needs. The tool also includes role-based and device-grouping features that enable large networking teams to divide up domains of monitoring responsibility. The product's incident lifecycle management feature lets users focus on incidents assigned specifically to them.

The product's advanced features include an architecture that allows for global network management across multiple geographies, extended path visualization, and discovery and monitoring of VMware hypervisors and the physical network connections that serve them.

HPE offers two versions of NNMI: NNMi Premium and NNMi Ultimate. The Premium edition includes two optionally installable smart plug-ins that extend NNMi from a fault and availability monitoring tool to a network performance and service assurance tool.

The Ultimate edition ships with several other optionally installable smart plug-ins that add traffic monitoring, IP telephony, IP multicast, MPLS and monitoring features. Ultimate also includes a network engineering plug-in that enables workflow automation for some engineering tasks. NNMi can be installed on a number of operating systems, including Windows Server, HP-UX and Linux.

HPE offers connectors between many of its products and NNMi, including HPE Operations Manager i, HPE Intelligent Management Center and the company's configuration management database product, UCMDB.

HPE licenses NNMi based on the number of devices it's monitoring, but those licenses are also tiered according to the amount of functionality those devices have on board.

NNMi ships with an embedded database, but enterprises can opt to use their own database technology if they prefer to customize the system.

HPE offers optional professional services for installing NNMi and training courses. The product ships with global support services for all aspects of the software and whatever other HPE products a user integrates with it. HPE also offers an online portal that connects users with education, consulting and technical support resources.

IBM Tivoli Network Manager

The IBM Tivoli Network Manager platform includes a core network availability monitoring component. Also marketed as Netcool Network Management, the product is aimed at medium and large enterprises and service providers. Its core features include network discovery, monitoring, event management and configuration. Although Tivoli Network Manager doesn't have inventory and asset management features, it can be integrated with a separate IBM tool to perform these functions.

IBM often packages Tivoli Network Manager with Tivoli Netcool Configuration Manager, a network change and configuration management system. IBM also offers Netcool Operations Insight, an advanced event management and operations analytics platform that provides alert integration, event analytics and event automation across several IBM management systems, including Tivoli Network Manager.

Tivoli Network Manager can monitor tens of thousands of devices. Its centralized console is designed to provide visibility and reporting that allow users to manage very large, complex environments. The user can select a variety of ways to view the network, including by virtual LANs, subnets, virtual private networks and a Network Hop View that shows all the devices connected to a selected device.

The platform uses multiple synchronous and bulk collection methods for discovering both physical and virtual network devices, including via SNMP and Internet Control Message Protocol. Tivoli Network Manager then can automatically organize those discovered devices into a topology map. A user can right-click on objects in Tivoli's maps and event reports to access a series of troubleshooting commands and device information.

The product's event management functionality uses root-cause analysis techniques to filter out superfluous alarms and escalate critical ones. Tivoli Network Manager's advanced analytics capabilities, which include predictive alerting and trending, can notify network managers of a problem before it happens.

Tivoli Network Manager features a portal designed for non-IT users, where they can build their own business-oriented dashboards that reveal how the network is serving them.

IBM offers a perpetual Tivoli Network Manager license tiered on a per-managed-device basis, with tiers for device types, size and complexity -- for example, the more complex a network device and the more monitoring data that it produces, the more expensive it is to monitor. The license comes with one year of software maintenance that can be renewed annually.

IBM offers optional professional services for the installation of Tivoli Network Manager. The product is sold directly by IBM and its channel partners.

Tivoli Network Manager ships with an embedded database and polling engine, but customers can use their own preferred database. IBM has developed an advanced, high-availability architecture for the product, allowing users to deploy multiple instances of the product in active-active or active-standby modes to ensure the tool is always up and running. This is especially critical to IBM's service-provider customers that rely on Tivoli Network Manager for maintaining service-level agreements.

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor

The SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM) performance management system monitors networks, as well as servers, storage and virtualization software.

NPM can automatically discover all devices in the network that have either SNMP or Windows Management Instrumentation enabled. A user can set the product's rediscovery feature for hourly, daily, weekly or monthly scans to find new devices.

NPM identifies the Layer 2 and 3 connections between devices during the discovery phase, which simplifies the process of creating network topology maps for visual tracking of performance and availability data. Users can select discovered devices, and drag and drop them into the mapping environment. The mapping feature will automatically create a topology map with the selected devices.

Users can monitor the health and availability of network devices via the topology map, dashboards and reports. They can drill down from any of these views to get more details on devices for troubleshooting, performance management and capacity planning.

The product's event management system lets users set threshold alerts and create alerts that correlate events across multiple devices, as well as use alerts based on sustained conditions and combinations of statuses across multiple devices. The event management system can also suppress alerts based on topology and dependencies to avoid redundant alerting.

The product's web console is customizable, with drag-and-drop functionality. It ships with several standard report templates, but users can also build and distribute their own reports.

SolarWinds offers several add-on modules for NPM to expand its overall network management scope, including packet-based performance monitoring. NPM integrates with several other SolarWinds products, including a NetFlow monitoring tool, a voice over IP monitoring system, a server and application manager, and a network configuration management system.

SolarWinds licenses NPM based on the number of devices and interfaces being monitored. The company also offers a 30-day, fully functional free trial of NPM.

NPM is shipped as a single software package with an embedded SQL database, but organizations can opt to use their own SQL database installed on a separate server. The software is installed on Windows Server 2008 or 2012 operating systems. The servers can be either bare-metal or virtual. For larger deployments, additional polling engine servers can be added.

NPM ships with one year of renewable technical support. SolarWinds offers internally staffed 24/7 technical support worldwide and maintains the Thwack user community and knowledge base. 

Next Steps

The benefits of using analytics to manage your network infrastructure

What the leading network monitoring tools offer SMBs and larger environments

How intent-driven networking helps with network management  

This was last published in February 2017

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