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Network management: Plan before you manage

Before you install a management system, research which product is right for you and clearly plan what you want to monitor.

David Gabel

Why do you want to use network management?

Some might say it's because it sounds like a good idea, or because they're managers and therefore should have network management systems in place.

But the real deal is that it lets your do more with less. At least that's the opinion of John McCormack, senior director of the Network Management Technology And Service Group for Cisco Systems Inc. Cisco has a full suite of products aimed at managing Cisco products, such as routers and switches. "This is the first top-of-mind consideration," he says. Network administrators "have to do more with less, and so they need the tools and capabilities in place to do that. It hasn't changed in 20 years." But, he adds, in these days of IT retrenchment, it's getting amplified.

So how do you do more with less? Well, the first step in managing anything, networks included, is gathering information about it. That's probably why many of the network management products that you can buy offer more information gathering functions than anything else.

But you have to realize that once you put a network management system into place, you will soon be inundated with information. These systems gather information from as many devices as you tell them to monitor, as often as you tell them to do it. What's the net result (no pun intended)? You get so much information that your drives start to fill up, and assuming you're saving all this information in event logs, your network starts to slow down because there's so much management traffic moving over the network. Given that you wanted to do more with less, that result is not what you had in mind.

There's a solution. "Lots of management products have heuristics that allow you to mitigate the amount of information that they generate," McCormack says. "They then only surface interesting things up." That means you can make your network management system tell you only what's important. Of course, you have to decide; you have to tell it what you want to see if you're going to realize the benefit of network management that you wanted to achieve. Planning can make the reality comport with what you had in mind.

Planning can mean you keep things simple, which is a goal of Triactive Inc. The company makes a Web-based network management product that President and CEO Glyn Meek boasts will be up and running in a couple hours.

"The problem we found with many currently available products is that they're too sophisticated and too complex," Meek says. So people will be wondering if they can trust that their management system will alert them when something breaks, but only when something breaks. For many network administrators, the solution to the network management puzzle is to have a system that has low cost, low complexity, and that is up and working quickly, able to give the users enough information, but not too much. Meek would like to think that he has the solution. But others are in the simple game as well.

For example, Ipswitch Inc. has a simple network management product called What's Up Gold. You can download the system for a 30-day evaluation and see if it will meet your needs. Martha Nguyen, technical sales rep for the network management product says most customers she helps with setup of the of the product are looking for a way to monitor the network and be informed of problems before there is a failure. "That way," she says, "they can be more proactive."

Proactive is good
If you can determine what the network components are doing, then you will probably be able to stop problems before they happen. Some network management systems allow you to be very proactive; in fact, they are proactive on their own. For instance, Derek Maxwell, product line manager for Systems and Resource Management at Sun Microsystems, says the company's Sun Management System 3.0 can correct certain problems before they happen.

"I think that one reason people are moving to Management Center is because they want to automate more in terms of running the system," Maxwell says. "So if you have certain data, [showing that a server has gone down, for instance, as the result of an overload], then there's an action that has to be taken as a result. This would require that a person has to be called, you have to find out which server it is, what happened, and then reset the server to bring it back. This could happen several times a week. But you can automate that response, so that the management agent on the server could reset for you, saving time and money." He says this is all about trying to maximize return on investment for network administrators.

Whether you're trying to do more with less or just trying to keep your head above water, a good network management system tailored to your needs can help. You can use one like Cisco's or Sun's, tailored to specific products, or one like TriActive's or Ipswitch's, which use SNMP protocol to monitor network devices that you specify by incorporating the proper MIBs. No matter what, you'll get the information you need and be able to prevent problems before they become realities.

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About the author: David Gabel is executive technology editor for TechTarget.

================================== MORE INFORMATION ==================================

  • Planning a network management system: Six easy steps
    What information do you want from your network management system? Who should get it? When? If you take the time to plan for your system, you'll have those questions answered before you spend hours of fruitless time on your system, and your experience won't devolve into too-much-data hell.

  • Top 10 Networking Administrator tips
    Need help managing your networks? Here are the top 10 Networking Administrator tips members sought out from Jan. 1 to March 31. Read them and rate them, or submit a tip of your own.

  • Top five network management blunders
    In some ways, networks are like teenagers: they go through huge growth spurts and are difficult to manage. Like parents, IT managers often lose control of their unruly charges by neglecting the basics, said Bob Yellin, CTO of Austin-based IBM Tivoli Software. In working with network managers for many years, he's seen them make the following mistakes in basic IT management over and over again.

This was last published in April 2002

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