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Network management gets easier thanks to new standards

Large or small, companies are faced with managing networks that, thanks to dropping hardware prices, are forever growing in size and complexity. Steve Rokov, marketing director for Avocent's embedded software and solutions group, spreads the word about two emerging standards that can make life easier for network engineers charged with managing networks and maintaining availability of network resources.

What is agentless technology, and why is it suddenly in the limelight?
Agentless technology complements traditional network management platforms by covering gaps in the management process. For example, traditional network management software runs on top of the operating system [OS], making it reliant on the OS being up and running in order to work. But what happens when the OS is the problem in a failed remote server? It makes the management software useless. Enter agentless. Agentless is special software that runs within a system, completely separate from the system's CPU, OS, etc. Because it doesn't rely on the CPU or OS to run, it can offer network management capabilities to recover a remote server that has an OS hiccup. Basically, agentless fills the gaps left with traditional network management software.

This summer is an important one for agentless technologies. There is a standard known as IPMI, currently in v2.0. Although v2.0 has been available for a while now, the first big slew of products that use v2.0 (servers, KVM, blades, etc.) from various vendors will hit the streets this summer. Avocent has an appliance that supports IPMI and will soon launch a revision of it that will expand on those features.

There is also another new standard, known as SMASH. It, too, works as an agentless technology, making such things as scripts standard across varying platforms. Like IPMI v2.0, products using this new SMASH standard will also be announced, starting this summer. How does this technology help network managers do their jobs?
Network managers are used to having to install agents. They used to buy [a network management platform] and go through the process of installing an agent on remote servers in order for the console to talk to it and allow network managers to manage it. However, agentless technology takes another view into that server, but doesn't require an agent to do that. From a big picture point of view, what people are trying to do by using agentless techniques is to lower the costs of managing a network. The best place for a network manager to be is to have both traditional network management software and agentless, because they complement each other. Agentless is free [because network platforms and network hardware now support agentless standards].

Typically, a network manager wants to look at as many components as possible, including the operating system and the hardware. Ensuring that you have both views and both control points makes for a better management experience. For example, [without agentless], if a server goes down and a network manager gets a call that access to SAP is lost, he has to be very quick to diagnose the problem in order to bring that service back online. Inevitably, he reaches a fork in the road: Is it a software problem or hardware? On the other hand, agentless lets network managers quickly determine (from a hardware or software point of view) which is the problem. Typically, if you are a network manager with a pager, agentless technology can be set up to page you and say, "Here is the problem." Or it can be set up so there is an alert sent to a console or to multiple people. What is driving the adoption of this technology?
There is a continual drive to streamline management within an organization and lower costs within network management by getting ahead of a problem. Five to six years ago, the cost of a server was two to three times what it is today. These data centers are just sprawling with servers now, so network managers have to cover more and more servers. They need good ways in which they can rapidly detect and solve problems.

This technology is applicable to small and large organizations, but an example of a market where agentless is a fit is telecom, because a great degree of availability is required there. There is a pretty general set of features that can be enjoyed and benefits reaped across multiple sectors, but there is a dramatic increase in a denser environment where there are additional servers. So agentless is a complementary addition to traditional management platforms because IPMI is being adopted by network management and network hardware vendors alike?
Tivoli supports those interfaces, Landesk … a bunch of [the main] network management tools have already adopted.

For the most part, this is free, and that's good, especially from a network management point of view. One message that needs to get out has to be that these vendors are enabling their products to be better managed.

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