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Network management outside the cocoon

Evolution is inherent to all IT disciplines. Inertia is simply antithetical to the very concept of technology, and network management is no exception. As business needs create new demands, network managers are forced to adapt to keep pace. recently sat down with Richard Ptak, co-founder of Amherst, N.H.-based research firm Ptak, Noel & Associates, to get his take on this ever-changing landscape and to learn how network managers can stay abreast of the latest developments.

What does network management entail today?
Network management has to do with monitoring, tracking, controlling and reporting what's happening on the network just to maintain network availability and performance. With the explosion of network-based business services, the actual functioning of a network has moved far beyond just simply worrying about availability and reliability to also managing the behavior of the applications and services that are built around that network.

Richard Ptak
Richard Ptak

How is the network manager's job description changing as a result?
The manager has to be more aware of the business impact of the events that are taking place on the network so that he or she can intelligently allocate scarce resources and time to events that affect the operation.

Network managers are -- not going to be, they are -- an integral part of the success of the business, and they have to think not only about maintaining the network and its services, but also about how the infrastructure, the devices and their operational decisions impact the business. Do you think most top-level executives understand how network management affects their businesses?
They lack the technical vocabulary and understanding, but they can see how the infrastructure and IT and networks are impacting them.

For example, Sarbanes-Oxley and all of the governance legislation has been a terrific tool in focusing the executives' attention on the need to manage their infrastructures and the network, and understanding configuration and change management. All of those pieces become very important because there's no other way to collect the kind of reporting, conformance and compliance information that's needed to fulfill those technical requirements. For network managers who may not have considered the business implications of their actions in the past, what advice do you have?
One of the first things they can do is document the services they offer and the processes they use to deliver them. And then it's easier to understand what the impact on the business is if some particular service dies or starts to deteriorate.

For more information

Check out Rich's webcast on bolstering your business with network and applications performance management.

Learn our need-to-know guidelines for network managers.

Is the marketplace keeping pace with these changes?
There's a big gap between what's available today and what's really needed in terms of reliability, management and capability. But we are making rapid strides -- from a management perspective and from an operational perspective -- toward improving the overall reliability of networks and services and so forth. We are not by any stretch of the imagination in nirvana, but we have much better tools available today, and vendors and solution providers have a much better understanding of what's needed. Any last words of advice for network managers struggling to adapt to these new demands?
Don't be intimidated by what you hear from analysts, vendors and solution providers. For the network management folks, the fundamental task remains to provide efficient, effective, reliable and available connections. Now what's changed is that you're no longer supporting a backroom operation. You're now at the forefront of a business challenge, and that's a good thing because that makes your job more important, and more interesting.

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