Network management is a combination of technical skills that a technician can offer mixed with a product/application that can be used to aid in both monitoring your infrastructure and making the technicians life easier. The products typically work by providing a management console that can contain multiple items to manage, or by grouping many functions into one executable function. In sum, it makes your life easier and makes it more manageable.
Here's a for instance: One of the products we will cover in future articles is Microsoft's SMS 2.0 server. How can it help you manage your network? Let's say you need to roll out a hotfix to Internet Explorer across your network. The hotfix is different in IE versions 4.x and 5.x. You even have a few 6.x browsers running out there. Your time is limited, and you have 3000 workstations to upgrade NOW because it involves a security problem. What do you do? Well, simply, you can create a package for version 4, one for 5, and one for 6. You can create groups based on the machines that the server has either detected or you manually added, and you can "push" these patches out after hours when everyone goes home and have them execute and install in the background without user intervention. Wow, that's for me, and guess what? This is commonly used in infrastructures today. This is the "pro" side of network management. Management is easier, faster, with fewer headaches.
So if it's that easy, why doesn't everyone do it? First off, you need someone dedicated to installing it, running it, maintaining it, configuring it, service packing it. It's another system you need to take care of, and it takes time and learning to do so. You also have to pay for it, and although the return on investment is high, the initial investment is an issue. That is why you frequently see large-scale management packages in big companies that can afford. But never fear, there are many smaller packages to meet your business needs and cost at the bottom line.
Another benefit of network management utilities is inventory management. This is a HUGE plus in my book. As we saw from our previous example with SMS, you are able to tell which users have a certain version of an executable on their machines. Can't go wrong there. Security is a benefit as well, because I can see what applications are installed on specific machines, thus being able to stop people from installing or removing what was put in.
Other products available, which we will discuss in the future, are directory services and management, Novell ZENWorks, Microsoft management solutions (including .NET and future packages like MOM), and others such as Concord network Health, HP OpenView, CiscoWorks, NAI Sniffer, and much, much more. It's an exciting area because there are so many products from so many vendors, and some even integrate with each other (like my favorite combination -- CiscoWorks meets HP OpenView).
Lastly, a major part of this new column and forum will be to provide you with information on network testing and design. Network management and testing can eliminate problems that have arisen, but they are also an integral part of your company's success for proactive maintenance. Testing can be done with a plethora of software utility tools and hardware to include NAI's Sniffer, Ether peek, Token Ring tools, WAN probes, monitoring devices, Fluke LAN Meters, and many, many more. In our network management tips and forum, we will cover all of this in great detail and show you ways to test your network to make it better and more productive for you.
Stay tuned, because each month will get better and will introduce more complex network management issues. I look forward to being your technical expert and network management guide. Until next time.
Are you using network management products? How have they helped make life easier, or what problems have you run into? Head over to the Net Management Answer Man forum and let's talk about it.