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Scalable network lifecycle management processes can reduce costs

In a lousy economy, network managers will be asked to manage their networks more efficiently. One way to cut operational costs is to develop better processes and acquire better tools for network lifecycle management.

In a struggling economy, where companies are looking to cut costs everywhere, a scalable network lifecycle management process is an excellent way to reduce operational expenses.

"It's not uncommon for people to spend $5 million or $10 million a year in just maintaining their networks," said Scott Harmon, CEO of network configuration management vendor AlterPoint. "Everything from standard maintenance contracts, hardware upgrades, capacity upgrades, to circuit upgrades."

Lifecycle management can be scattershot

Unfortunately, many organizations have taken a scattershot approach to managing the lifecycles of their networking equipment.

Different parts of the networking team will use different elements of this hodgepodge to manage their assets. "They have spreadsheets," said Dennis Drogseth, vice president of Enterprise Management Associates. "They have Visio drawings. They'll have a database here and there. And they might have the beginnings of a CMDB [Configuration Management Database] somewhere."

"To be honest, it's a mess in those environments," Drogseth said. "Even in the more advanced environments, there is still a tendency to have a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It's going to be a while before we truly get a more unified approach."

In the current macroeconomic climate, this scattershot approach to network lifecycle management is becoming less acceptable, he said. Companies are reacting quickly to this trend.

In the past, network managers may have had loose policies for managing, supporting and retiring network equipment, Drogseth said. "I think we're past the time when most businesses will accept that as a way of working."

Tools for better network lifecycle management

Networking teams need to become more organized in how they manage the lifecycles of their infrastructure elements, he said. Some vendors are trying to help.

More on network hardware lifecycle management

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Network management planning guide

White paper: Lifecycle Approach to Infrastructure Change Management

"Hewlett-Packard [HP] has a good story in network configuration capabilities," Drogseth said. "They have strong asset management capabilities. AlterPoint has made some unique investments in configuration management with analytical capabilities and strong CMDB support."

Vendors like IBM and CA Inc. address pieces of lifecycle management with some asset management and change management capabilities, he said. But in terms of putting these all together and very actively managing the network lifecycle, HP has been "the most voluble and active of the big platform vendors," he said, and AlterPoint has been a leader of the individual solution sets.

AlterPoint last year released a new product, NetworkAuthority Lifecycle, which specifically uses an online analytical processing (OLAP) engine to analyze the costs or financial impacts of network lifecycle management.

"[NetworkAuthority Lifecycle] uses data mining to ask what-if questions such as: 'What would happen if I changed this class of routers from this maintenance tier to another maintenance tier?' " AlterPoint's Harmon said. "It would come back and say that you would reduce your spending on an annual basis by, say, $370,000."

Understanding service contracts and end-of-life planning

A product like AlterPoint's Lifecycle keeps track of all the hardware in a network. It goes online to a vendor's network and downloads the maintenance and service contracts the company has with the vendor. With this information, the product can catch inconsistencies or redundancies. Quite often, poor contract management can inflate operational costs.

"The vendor contracts we download off their sites often have missing serial numbers or have serial numbers that show up twice," said David Valys, chief architect for AlterPoint. "There will be devices that have been off the network for a long time, but they show up in a contract. Vendors try to do a good job in this area, but there are so many channels to purchase these devices. You might purchase a device that has service already built into the first-year cost. And by the time it goes on the network, someone might identify that device as something that needs to go on yet another contract, not knowing that it's already covered."

Good network lifecycle management is in many ways the best tool that network managers have for cutting maintenance and service costs. It can also save organizations a lot of time in how they manage devices that reach their end-of-life stage.

Valys said vendors often deluge network managers with official notices about hardware reaching its end-of-life and end-of-service stages. Vendors are doing their due diligence in sharing this information, but network managers have a hard time keeping up with it. In an organization that approaches network lifecycle management with a collection of spreadsheets, Visio drawings and databases, each one of these notices can mean several hours of research and assessment.

A network manager using lifecycle management tools from vendors such as AlterPoint and HP can run quick reports that show how many switches or routers will need to be replaced in a given month. Then the network manager can be prepared for hardware replacement by spending more time budgeting manpower for the changeover and less time on discovery.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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