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Network change and configuration management vendors see big changes

Two leading independent network change and configuration management vendors have seen big changes this winter. Netcordia gave its product a makeover, while AlterPoint changed ownership.

This winter, the network change and configuration management (NCCM) market has heated up, as two leading vendors in the space have seen some big changes.

NCCM technology can be expensive, and adoption in general has been slow to take off, but analysts see NCCM as a critical technology for improving network services and reducing costs. This is particularly important in a down economy. NCCM vendor Netcordia is looking to make that easier for enterprises with the latest release of its flagship product, NetMRI 3.0. Meanwhile, AlterPoint has found some deeper pockets to offer it financial stability and additional development resources by being acquired by Versata Enterprises, a holding company of enterprise software vendors.

"I believe in this market broadly," said Dennis Drogseth, vice president of Enterprise Management Associates. "I think that change management and automating change and being able to understand intelligently how those changes impact across your infrastructure is a huge value. It's been slow to take off as a growth market, but there's plenty of room for Netcordia and AlterPoint, just as there's room for the platform vendors [such as HP, EMC and CA]."

Netcordia simplifies, broadens NCCM

With its recent release of its flagship product, NetMRI 3.0, Netcordia has focused almost solely on improving its usability, a major sticking point for customers in the past.

"I went to a customer six months ago, and he said he loved the product, but he told me he wanted to show me something. He pulled a notebook out of a drawer and showed me all the steps he had to take to get to the screen he wanted," said Yama Habibzai, product marketing director for Netcordia. "This was not a surprise to us. Over the course of the last few years, we've added more and more to this product, and it just became this blob of features and functions without thinking about visuals."

"The new version is much better and very easy to navigate," said Tod Isaacson, manager of network services at Loyola Marymount University. "Before, you really had to hunt around to find stuff, which could be time-consuming. Now, you can see several different screens at once that you had to hunt for in the past. I will use a lot more stuff that I didn't know was there in the past because it's now easier to find."

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Drogseth said NetMRI has always been a "beautiful and powerful" analytical tool for automating and managing network configuration changes, but customers have found that only the most advanced network engineers could use it effectively.

With the new version of NetMRI, Netcordia has introduced a Web-based interface featuring dashboards that show changes over time, topology status views that show users exactly where a change occurred, and a combination view that overlays both network health and policy compliance statuses on top of the map. With a tabbed interface, users can click back and forth between different views of the network.

"It's now being made more broadly useful across the IT planning community and starts to touch more on the business side in terms of who understands the impact [of network changes]," Drogseth said. "[NetMRI] was developed for the network engineering community, and now it's moving up the food chain into a more strategic position in terms of performance-related analytics across the network infrastructure."

AlterPoint finds deep pockets

Last week, NCCM vendor AlterPoint's ownership changed hands. Versata Enterprises, a private equity firm that owns nearly a dozen enterprise software companies, bought the firm from the three venture capital firms that had a stake in it -- JK&B Capital, Austin Ventures and Palomar Ventures.

Another leading independent NCCM vendor, AlterPoint takes an approach different from Netcordia's. Whereas Netcordia's roots are in performance management, AlterPoint focuses on asset lifecycles and how configuration changes can affect a company's bottom line.

AlterPoint CEO Scott Harmon said that the company will remain independently managed, and customers will experience no changes in product development, sales and marketing.

AlterPoint was looking for another round of venture funding, Harmon said, but in the current economy, venture capital firms in general are looking to invest money in companies that are closer to going public. By selling to Versata, AlterPoint now has a parent company with "deep pockets," Harmon said. "This is really about financial stability to us."

"I don't see any change in strategy, brands or products [with this transaction]," said Jim Frey, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. "It's probably just a good, convenient move for them. It allows them to focus a little more on one key equity partner."

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

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