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Analyst, users differ on value of new network-monitoring approach

Upstart network-management software vendor Fidelia is trying to earn a name for itself as an innovator in the network management field by tying network operations to specific business processes. An analyst says Fidelia's NetVigil provides a whole new way to look at the network, but users believe it's a leap that many may not be ready to take.

For many companies facing stagnant budgets and increasing demands for better network performance, network monitoring has become a necessity. Now a Princeton, N.J.-based vendor is offering the ability to monitor networks on the cheap, while tying network operations to business functions.

NetVigil, a product from network-management software vendor Fidelia Inc., ties network resources and devices to specific business processes -- a feature that lets IT managers better prioritize their time and their staff, said the company's CEO, David Woodall.

A new paradigm

With this approach, Fidelia has tapped into an important new way a of thinking about IT infrastructure, said Elisabeth Rainge, an analyst with Framingham, Mass., research firm International Data Corp.

"What is really interesting is that the company has started with the business perspective," she said, adding that, increasingly, enterprises are trying to justify IT spending by showing how it benefits the business process.

The Fidelia strategy, with NetVigil, is to allow IT managers to group devices and functions according to specific business practices.

So, for example, the accounting department might have its own bin represented by a folder in the NetVigil interface. A network manager can assign all of accounting's servers, WAN links, databases, applications and other devices to that folder. That way, if accounting has problem, all of the relevant information is in one place.

That strategy might also help IT departments prioritize repairs, Woodall said. If a problem affects two departments and business rules state that one of them takes precedence in the event of downtime, then technicians know where to focus their resources.

Fidelia has capitalized on an opening in the market, the IDC's Rainge said. Many of the tools in this space, such as Network Associates Inc.'s Sniffer, were developed 15 years ago -- meaning there is plenty of room for innovation from small companies.

Are users ready?

But Fidelia may be a bit ahead of the market. While Fidelia's approach appeals to the upper-level decision makers, Rainge said, many companies aren't yet ready to align their technology infrastructure with business functions.

Mike Stinebaugh, network and systems manager for Minneapolis-based eBenX Inc., a provider of benefits information for businesses, said that he was drawn to NetVigil not because of its business-centric approach, but simply because of its price.

Previously, Stinebaugh had monitored his network with homemade scripts, but when one customer asked for more detailed information on its service-level agreements, Stinebaugh found he was unable to generate the necessary information.

He looked at market-leading network monitoring products, such as Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OpenView, but he found that, with NetVigil (which sells, on average, for $100,000), he was able to get the functionality he needed for about 10% of the cost of market-leading products.

While the business container concept is appealing, he said that slicing up his network according to business use isn't a high priority right now, so that function goes largely unused.

He does, however, like having the ability to provide simplified views into the network for different user groups. For example, salespeople can get a limited view into a relevant portion of the network and can use that in a sales presentation. And the view can be kept at a high enough level so that they don't get lost in the details of the network.

That is also a feature that appeals to Richard Beebe, manager of systems and network engineering at Yale School of Medicine. Beebe is in the process of switching over to NetVigil. He is very happy with the product's ability to provide a useful window into his network as well as the university's network as a whole, but he does not see much use the for the business container function.

Where it might be useful, he said, would be in providing a Web-based network view to the university community, which he could use to control the amount of data that users are able to see, or perhaps to provide upper-level management with a single network indicator, a light that is always green.


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