Network management is critical to systems integration

One of the most critical, yet often overlooked, components to effective systems integration is network management.

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Kelly Anderson

One of the most critical, yet often overlooked, components to effective systems integration is network management. As the complexity of large and small corporate networks continues to surge, the knowledge, control and awareness of the network infrastructure is essential. The absence of sound network management surrounding systems integration can negatively impact overall system and network productivity, and poor productivity leads to...

a poor bottom line. As IT managers face the challenges inherent with growing and consolidating complex networks, they should be certain to include key network management tasks throughout the process to ensure a solid integration.

In order to maximize a successful integration, one should consider the following tasks:

  • Understand your network infrastructure
  • Maximize network and system uptime
  • Utilize baselining and capacity planning capabilities

As an IT manager plans for system integration, particularly when adding to the existing infrastructure, he must understand the network environment. In layman's terms: What devices exist on the network? What services and applications run on these devices? How is the network organized? How are critical systems connected? Many network management tools in today's marketplace achieve this capability by offering auto-discovery and mapping at various layer levels to develop a visual representation of the local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN). Dynamic networks, which presently exist as the norm, will require periodic and systematic checks (rediscovery) of the network to ensure that the information is current.

IT managers need a thorough understanding of their network infrastructure that will guarantee effective use of the network devices and network resources, such as bandwidth or disk space utilization. Without such organization, it becomes an unearthly task to identify problem areas. Specifically, it is difficult to recognize when or how a particular network issue may affect related devices, services, or applications. This knowledge will assist in future planning of systems integration by highlighting the current environment and possible loopholes in the existing structure.

Another issue is the ability to maximize uptime of mission critical systems. After systems integrations are completed, what good is new infrastructure if your critical routers, servers, switches, and other vital business systems are down? As individual networks grow, the human element of network monitoring becomes unmanageable. In the present day, network monitoring needs to follow a 24/7, 365 days-a-year model. In place of high overhead costs of human resources to fit this model, companies are opting for automatic and proactive network monitoring. In years past, 99.9% uptime was considered perfect. Today, this uptime percentage is no longer acceptable. System downtime or network performance latency slows employee productivity, business transactions, and, ultimately, the organization's success.

As network monitoring continues to evolve, IT managers will not find many network monitoring solutions with identical feature sets. Rather, these solutions range between complex and simple, as well as expensive and free. Further, they differ in the specific devices, events and resources that they can monitor, as well as the way in which they monitor. However, essential components to network monitoring include the ability to pinpoint an existing or potential problem, provide remote notification, and log network activity for historical analysis. The ability to identify network problems as or before they occur will minimize business downtime. Consistent analysis will recognize developing network issues and allow the administrator to take precautionary steps.

Another area where network management is critical to systems integration is in baselining and capacity planning for system and network resources. Identifying acceptable utilization levels of resources such as disk space, system memory, and network bandwidth is best assessed at the time of systems integration and then reevaluated on a regular basis.

Strained resources are often the root cause of device failure and performance lag time. Therefore, optimal utilization ranges should be set. This will set the stage for preventative monitoring to identify when resources are falling outside of and acceptable range of performance. Threshold monitoring for trends of atypical behavior ensures the IT manager's control of the network and efficient utilization of systems and resources.

Systems integration is critical to the success of corporations today as they put their trust into IT systems for reliable business practices. If an IT manager fails to consider network management as a core component before, during and after systems integration, he is selling the company short of a solid infrastructure.

Particular network management needs vary based on the size of the organization, the experience and resources within the IT staff, as well as the type of business. Yet, three core management functions exist across the board: understanding the network systems and infrastructure, maximizing uptime of network devices by proactive and consistent network monitoring, and identifying the baseline and capacity levels of network and system resources. By addressing these core functions up front and on an ongoing basis, the integrated network will perform efficiently and at optimal capacity for better overall business results.

This was first published in April 2004

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