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Defining network management

What is network management?
On quick thought, the answer seems so easy. We all tend to "know" what network management is, yet when we sit down to define it, the answer twists and turns and we begin to realize how hard it is to grasp the true definition. Network management is often defined in terms of monitoring tools and the function of collecting data from devices. You've got routers, switches, servers and applications. You have metrics...lots of them, like throughput, error rates, response times, latency. Your head starts to swell and you know you're falling into quicksand!

"Network management is everything needed to manage the topology, availability, performance, configuration and security of a network."

Many times I've encountered customers that have purchased and implemented the best network management technology on the planet, yet they complain that they still can't meet their own network availability requirements. They ask,"What's the problem with these tools?" Meeting specific goals for high availability or optimum performance requires more than just tools. For example, a customer of mine had spent a fortune implementing a comprehensive suite of management tools that provided a "point-to-point" view of the network. Like the Titanic, they virtually declared their network "unsinkable." Yet several months after deploying the enterprise management solution, they experienced a critical network failure that brought down a manufacturing plant for more than 24 hours! The management platform never detected the outage because this part of the network was never properly modeled by the management system -- due to improper change control.

A breakdown in change control is one of the most common problems affecting network management. Network management is more than just a set of tools. It is a business discipline that requires careful balance and close integration of people, processes, and tools in order to achieve business goals. A company that places too much emphasis on any one "leg" of this three-legged stool risks running into an iceberg in the middle of the night!

This was last published in April 2001

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