Administrators can not only receive tweets and messages about port usage and oversubscription from devices on their network, they can tweet commands back to the devices in natural human language rather than via command line interface (CLI).
Enterasys' project "isaac" is software that integrates with the company's Network Management System (NMS) and allows network managers to create profiles on consumer and enterprise social media services for their Enterasys network switches, routers and wireless infrastructure. The devices can then send messages through those services to a whitelist of network administrators about any number of preprogrammed events, such as port usage changes, access point oversubscription and device failures. Network managers can also program isaac to relay commands from those admins back to the devices via the same consumer and enterprise social media.
"We allow the end user in natural human language to create the commands and map those commands to existing SNMP and Syslogging," said Vala Afshar, chief customer officer for Enterasys. "So we can have a command [via Twitter] that says to find top talkers for a switch: five top talkers, switch second floor, port 5. You get a list of IP addresses connected to that port along with which ones are the top talkers."
Technology like isaac could be forthcoming from other vendors as they seek to provide the next generation of IT professionals with tools that they are accustomed to using, said Rohit Mehra, director of enterprise communications infrastructure for IDC. Someday people who grew up using Facebook and Twitter will grow up to be network managers and CIOs, and their expectations for management tools will be different.
Faster, easier remote network management
Today network administrators are always on call and often carry several devices with them just so they can respond to network problems quickly. Being able to monitor and manage the network via consumer or enterprise social media right on a smartphone could streamline the whole process, according to Chance Irvine, director of IT operations and infrastructure at Proxibid, an online marketplace for auctioneers.
"Today our admins carry smartphones, laptops and iPads. They have to be able to VPN into the system, bring up the client and deal with [remote network management] that way. Most of them are carrying a full laptop with a data card," Irvine said. "I imagine at times a person who is on call may be able to simply use this on their smartphone and not have to carry a laptop or even an iPad. They'll be able to do most management just on the phone, or just use a home PC [without using a VPN].
Irvine, who is an Enterasys customer, said he'll test isaac in his environment.
"If it's secure, it will give a better quality of life to my admin team. They'll be able to manage things from wherever they're at 24/7 without having to carry around extra devices," Irvine said.
Isaac is an excellent marketing move for Enterasys, according to Jim Frey, managing research director for Enterprise Management Associates, but remote network management via social media is novel and may not have much demand just yet. The most attractive part of isaac for now is Enterasys' efforts to enable network management via natural language rather than CLI.
"That's the possible revolutionary part: trying to make network management information come across in more human, natural language interaction. That is the focus of all network management tools,” said Frey. “A lot of organizations will have their own names for every device on the network. A device with a meaningless and cryptic name may put out an alarm and no one will know the meaning of it except for one network manager. This makes it easier for anyone with responsibility for network management to understand the information they're receiving."
Can remote network management via social media be secure?
The notion of putting switches and routers on Facebook or Twitter will make many network managers nervous because of security concerns. But Enterasys says it has devoted lots of research to securing the platform.
As part of Enterasys' security strategy, consumers and enterprise social media services will not have direct access to network devices. Instead, isaac, in cooperation with Enterasys' NMS, will serve as a broker between the devices and Facebook, Twitter et al. Also, customers can set up whitelists of administrators to be the only people who can actually receive alerts and send commands through isaac. What's more, Enterasys offers a second layer of authentication above the whitelist with single-use pins that can be sent via SMS or email whenever an administrator wants to issue a command that an enterprise deems highly sensitive.
"By adding that external security layer and having that sitting on our NMS, you would have to penetrate several layers to reach a piece of hardware," said Ram Appalaraju, Enterasys' vice president of marketing.
Social media services are also constantly refining their own security capabilities, IDC's Mehra said, and other companies promise similar secure services. Salesforce's Chatter, for example, is a proven enterprise social media service that offers a closed loop to network managers.
Enterasys will license isaac at prices incrementally based on the number of devices managed through it. The price will start at $9,995, but Enterasys is offering isaac for free to early adopters until the end of 2011. The product works only with Enterasys products today, but the company has plans to make isaac compatible with third-party network management products and endpoint devices.
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