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Managing networks from the top down

Networks should be judged from the end user experience, not the network operations center, said Zeus Kerravala, vice president for enterprise infrastructure at the Yankee Group, a Cambridge, Mass., research firm. Kerravala calls this the top down approach to network management. He said end users are the best judges of network performance.

What is the top down approach to network management?
That means looking at the management of the infrastructure through the view of the applications versus from the network up. Historically you always managed things in isolation, like you manage your network, you manage your servers, but you never managed the end user experience. The top down approach lends itself more to managing what the end users experience rather than just seeing which routers and switches are up and down. Please give an example.
The example I use is that people are building their networks to be very resilient. Today, you can have a failure of a piece of equipment on the network; if you built the network right it has no effect on the end users experience so it's not critical. However, if you have a database that is slow that won't register that it is up or down, but it will cause big problems within the company. It's managing what matters. Can you give an example of what it means to leverage existing IT infrastructure?
Convergence is a good example. If I am paying for a separate voice network and a separate data network, is there any way I can combine the two and run all my traffic over one? It's easier to manage. It certainly costs me less. In the server world, if I've got hundreds of servers doing different things, I can consolidate those to run the same number of applications on fewer servers. If you think about the way people built their networks in the late 90s it was almost ad hoc. The competitive pressures were so high that you didn't really have time to do a lot of due diligence and see how it fits into the infrastructure so you just went out and built. What does a top down approach mean to network managers?
It would mean that you would have to find a way to get all your divisional silos to work together. You could almost create a front-end management group to manage all the different components and distribute the trouble calls from there. If you look back historically people managed their little bits of the world in isolation and really didn't have much understanding of what went on in the rest of the infrastructure. This would mean to put a premium on having a common management platform for all of those things. It would lead to quicker troubleshooting periods and quicker resolve times for customers or end users. Can you think of a company that has succeeded in adapting its network to the current conditions?
Lehman (a New York brokerage firm) or the person who runs their business continuity planning, is a good example. They have a very, very robust voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) network and good remote access. Employees can work anywhere and still have the same functionality they have in the office. When 9/11 happened they were able to stay up and running. It wasn't as disastrous as them as it could have been. What do trends do you see in IT spending in this economy?
There's no reason to expect it to turn around anytime soon. Everybody is waiting to see what happens as the markets shake out. People are trying to fix what they already have rather than buying new technology. This actually plays in very well for the management folks by taking something they already have and making it run better. How are companies changing their infrastructures to cope with current conditions?
Convergence is a good example of that. It is taking things that were run in isolation and making them run together, having one network that powers my business. In enterprise application integration there has been a lot of talk about that, making my applications work better together. Web services is all about machines talking to machines and has automated a lot of those processes.

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