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What to look for in network management software?

What to look for in network management software?

I am trying to decide on what network management software to buy. We have about 275 nodes. What should I look for in good software for management? Automation?
What you first must decide on is a network management strategy, which, of course, will be dependent on your budget. What are you going to concentrate on? You have several potential sources of management data, all of which require different products to monitor them, and different tasks you may want to accomplish. I'll bullet-point a few considerations:

  • Device management. Here's a good place to start with a limited budget, for there are a number of good freeware or shareware products that can do a good job with a small network like yours. You'll be looking at SNMP data, which won't tell you much about application performance (except with a lot of skull-work and guessing), but products like MRTG, PRTG, and SNMPc can keep you on top of things like device status (up/down), link utilization, and device configuration (what versions of operating systems are on which router for example).
  • Asset management. You may want to keep track of the end nodes to help decide if configuration might be a problem, or an upgrade or replacement is in order. This can also be used for auditing software licenses and versions. LANSurveyor from Neon Software is an example of one product in this category.
  • Application performance. This is where it gets difficult. A protocol analyzer can, with a good bit of work, help you track down the cause of poor application performance that doesn't originate in an actual device fault—and this is by far the majority of cases, which is why SNMP isn't much use for managing applications on the network. The venerable Sniffer products from Network General, and those from Wild Packets, fall into this category.
  • Although it will cost a bit more, a flow-based network management solution, such as those available from Network Physics and Compuware/Adlex, can not only help you manage application performance, but reveal the source of other problems, because such a solution can see utilization, performance and even, in some cases, route and AS information, presenting it to you in a unified manner. Since such solutions generally don't require getting data from a lot of disparate sources (unlike an SNMP solution, which needs connectivity to all your devices), they're easier to set up and manage.

    This was last published in February 2006

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