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Network management shortcuts -- Tools and frameworks

In the new e-book "The Shortcut Guide to Network Management for the Mid-Market," author Greg Shields outlines real-world technologies, processes and guiding steps to help network engineers and IT managers implement effective network management with the limited time and resources that are often realities for smaller companies. But management fundamentals and effective troubleshooting and security apply to companies of all sizes, as does the need to shift from reactive to proactive management strategies.

SearchNetworking.com corresponded with Shields to discuss network management frameworks and tools as well as the growing importance of network management.

More on The Shortcut Guide to Network Management for the Mid-Market
Read Network troubleshooting and diagnostics, Chapter 4 of the e-book.

Download The Shortcut Guide to Network Management for the Mid-Market from Realtime Publishers.
Shields is an MSCE and CCEA-certified author and consultant with experience in systems administration, engineering and architecture; he also teaches system and network troubleshooting for TechMentor Events, a bi-annual IT conference, and produces computer-based training curriculum for CBT Nuggets on numerous topics.

Your book specifically addresses network management for small and medium-sized businesses. It seems to me that the midmarket might be the most interesting segment for network management: At the enterprise end of the spectrum, companies have the complexity and budget for the management suites from Cisco and HP, while at the very small business end, companies may not really require intense network management. So it's in the middle where IT practitioners have to be really involved with their networks, implementing the right management tools wisely and creatively. What do you think?
Partially true. All networks need some form of network management. Those at the smaller end just need fewer enterprise features than larger ones. Even a small company with a few servers and network devices still needs to know when one of those network devices goes down. Capturing the configuration of that device is similarly critical -- doubly so when the small company may make use of outsourced network administration. Most of all, network troubleshooting in small networks is unnecessarily complicated when that network lacks the necessary tools to do it well. With the low cost of many network management tools on the market today, really any network can and should implement them for the health of their network and thus their business. Your book discusses the OSI and FCAPS (fault, performance, configuration, accounting and security) network models. Why are frameworks and methodologies like FCAPS and the OSI model important for network management?
Two reasons: First, they provide the surrounding vocabulary within which we can communicate with one another. Lacking OSI's seven-layer model, it would be much harder for me to describe to a co-worker that I think "the problem might be with a blocked port." Second, they add structure to an otherwise intangible concept. Frameworks and methodologies like FCAPS and OSI help us recognize where gaps exist in our network design and illustrate how elements within our network interrelate.

More on frameworks and network management
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Is the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) also relevant for network management? And if so, how does it apply? What do network engineers or managers need to know about ITIL?
ITIL provides one of the structures for processes. If you've ever looked at the ITIL books themselves, they're a lot to digest. But what ITIL does is provide a list of established best practices for helping us understand how best to work together to manage the health of our networks. If the processes that define the management of your network operates as a full adhocracy or even if you just want to formalize your existing processes just a little more, then ITIL is a great way to immediately find the templates for how to do it best. Do you recommend open source network management tools often?
Absolutely. In some environments, especially those who cannot afford for-cost tools, open source tools provide an excellent alternative. In some cases, open source tools are even better than for-cost tools. What are a couple of your favorites?
We've all used PuTTY and other similar open source remote connectivity tools to connect to our devices. Wireshark (formerly Ethereal) is a freeware tool used everywhere for packet analysis. I've recently been introduced to a neat tool called The Dude that performs many network management functions at no cost. When would you not recommend open source technologies?
There's always a danger with open source tools in the arenas of version management and support. Open source tools can get updated more quickly than for-cost ones, which means it can be easy to get behind on versions. And nearly all open source tools come without a lick of formal support. So be aware that if you have problems with your tools, you may have to figure out your problems or search newsgroups for a solution. How is network management today different from a few years ago, and how will it be different a few years from now?
IT environments everywhere are maturing. As businesses continue moving to an always-on need for its network underpinnings, network management must evolve -- and is evolving -- to support those needs. In the old days, come 5 p.m. we knew we could do pretty much whatever we wanted with the network. Nowadays, with remote access, telecommuting, and multi-time zone operations, those windows are getting narrower and narrower. Network management these days involves a level of redundancy and parallelism like never before. Managing those redundant paths and finding ever-better ways to manage those paths is where we're going.

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