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Intelligent network management = Better service delivery

The goal of network management is to deliver better services to business end users, but manual change and configuration, coupled with reactive problem-solving, have often confounded that goal. In this column, Richard Ptak describes the problem and gives his opinion on a product that may help further the cause of intelligent network management.

Richard Ptak describes how, ideally, network management can deliver better services to business end users... and gives his opinion on a product that may help further the cause of intelligent network management.

WAN optimization, end-to-end transaction tracking, traffic management, device monitoring, application performance...

management with synthetic transactions, automated service definition -- the number and variety of management products and approaches available for network managers can be overwhelming. Add to these the skill of marketing organizations and pundits in defining and redefining decision metrics and solutions requirements. When considering the many types of management solutions, it's a wonder that network managers have any hair left on their heads, let alone that they're able to maintain their sanity. What can be done to help you thread your way through the matrix of choices available?

One of the best ways to focus the process is to start from the route function of the network and then identify and prioritize problems that block performance of that function. It's no longer about simply keeping the network up and running, nor about meeting and advertising an ability to meet SLAs set by network staff (but which simply confuse business end users).

So what is the priority? We believe the entire infrastructure (networks, storage, servers and applications) exists to help support and drive business success. Anything that disrupts or interrupts services delivered on behalf of the enterprise is a problem.

What is the major cause of problems that disrupt network services?

A substantial percentage of network problems -- especially many of the most painful ones -- are self-inflicted. They result from manual management and changes made to network configurations -- authorized, unauthorized, poorly implemented or involving unforeseen and very damaging consequences. These consequences are often the result of inherent conflicts caused by incompatible versions, configurations or dependencies, known or easily discovered if checked prior to change.

The growing operational complexity, accelerating rates of change, and evolution of network technology make reliable, error-free manual change management essentially impossible. Also, traditional resolution techniques meant network operations were reactive. Failures in business operations were the trigger for network staff to attempt to locate and resolve network problems. Moving away from manual change and configuration looks like a prime candidate for early focus. For these cases, the solution lies in a structured, automated approach that integrates and unifies the traditionally independent functions of fault, performance, and configuration management and implementation.

One example of integrated, automated network management is CA's newly released Spectrum v8.1. It is the first application to tightly integrate device configuration and change monitoring with root cause analysis to automatically identify and locate the source of potential network problems. Spectrum automatically builds and maintains a detailed knowledge of network dependencies and relationships. It actively monitors for configuration changes and requests, which when combined with real-time analysis of the impact allows Spectrum to be uniquely "change aware." This awareness, combined with its relationship modeling, gives Spectrum a powerful capability of proactive detection, location and alerting to avoid potential disruptions to delivered services.

As an example, a director of networking with extensive Spectrum experience found its ability to tie services to the devices and servers used in delivering the service to be highly valuable. When faced with a network problem, Spectrum will automatically and routinely narrow the problem to a specific device; further, it will now identify the specific services affected or, if the service uses multiple devices, whether it is only affected (and to what degree) but not totally dead.

Spectrum v8.1 also leverages a number of technologies from earlier CA acquisitions such as Wily Introscope and CA eHealth for Voice. The former allows correlation of application performance problems to identify and remedy the cause in the supporting network infrastructure to help ensure that service levels are met. The integration with CA eHealth for Voice helps to ensure optimal network performance across converged networks. Enabling IT organizations to rapidly pinpoint problems and affected services, CA Spectrum provides an excellent example of the kinds of tools needed to preserve network service levels on behalf of operations of all kinds of enterprises.

About the author:
Richard Ptak is founder and partner at Ptak, Noel & Associates. He has more than 30 years of experience in systems product management. He was VP at Hurwitz Group and D.H. Brown Associates and worked at Western Electric's Electronic Switch Manufacturing Division and at Digital Equipment Corporation. He is frequently quoted in the trade press and is author of Manager's Guide to Distributed Environments.


This was last published in September 2007

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