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Network management on the cheap

Having a small budget is no excuse for neglecting network management. Options exist for networking pros who may be short on cash but are determined to optimize their netwoks.

While enterprise level companies with big budgets have any number of serious, capable network management platforms to choose from, small to medium size outfits don't have the same range of options. Many have learned to get by on a collection of simple management tools and utilities, stitched together with built-in consoles included with the operating systems and applications they use. Even relatively low-cost platforms, like Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS), don't cover all the network platforms, devices, and services that a full-blown end-to-end management solution should offer. Either that or they require so much additional effort and expense to complete that they are no longer worth your while.

That's why I'm pleased to report on a company of Scandinavian origins -- with a worldwide customer base -- named Nimsoft. Though their solutions can (and sometimes do) meet the needs of large enterprises, their primary customers are in the small to medium business markets. Basically, if the thought of a $12,000 cost of entry, plus modest incremental costs for desktops, servers, and devices to manage doesn't scare you off, this product set is well worth further investigation.

What really makes Nimsoft's NimBUS offering shine, however, is that it can provide element management components inside larger scale environments (Nimsoft's products play well with consoles and tools from vendors like Computer Associates, Tivoli, BMC, Remedy, Micromuse, and so forth) or NimBUS can deliver centralized management and monitoring capabilities to go with the many types of elements and platforms it can manage. Here's an abbreviated list of what's covered, on a category/instance basis.

NimBUS End-to-End Service Components

Category          Instances Covered
Database          DB2, Sybase, MS SQL Server, Informix, Oracle
Dir Svcs          DNS, LDAP, WINS, DHCP
Middleware        WebSphere, MQ Series, JMX
IP Svcs           FTP, HTTP, SMTP, POP3, Telnet
App rspns         Web, client/server, mainframe, terminal session
Servers           Windows, Linux, UNIX, NetWare, iSeries AS400
Network           Routers, switches, interfaces, firewalls
Apps              Citrix, Active Directory, MS Exchange, Lotus

Several things combine to make NimBUS really interesting technology, especially for those familiar with big-ticket network management environments. For one thing, it's possible to download, install, configure, and run a working console with real management elements in less than one hour. Because NimBUS uses its own publish/subscribe architecture that provides "guaranteed delivery" of events and performance data, it doesn't have to depend on SNMP agents at the element level. NimBUS also offers a wide range of canned live reports (with ample customization facilities to be sure), for all of which live samples are available. These include:

Live NimBUS Sample Reports

Name                         Description
Server Network Response Time Shows ping response times
DHCP Response Time           Shows DHCP network response times
Router Interface Traffic     Shows IP address, interface stats
Server CPU Usage             Percent CPU utilization over time
Bandwidth Utilization        Utilization in bytes/sec over time
Server Memory Utilization    Server memory usage in Mbytes/%ages

Plus numerous others with more specialized import for database, directory service, e-mail, or Web page access and utilization. By default, reports show up for the past 24 hours, but can be elicited on weekly, monthly, and quarterly bases as well.

What makes NimBUS most attractive, however, is that it includes sophisticated service level management and SLA tracking capabilities right out of the box. Given service level descriptions and information, NimBUS can report on these characteristics, as well as record events, and issue alarms or alerts as configured. This functionality is part and parcel of a single code base, rather than grafted onto a patchwork of multiple utilities, as is the case with so many other network management solutions.

From the perspective of bang for the buck, even though a few bucks are indeed involved (probably enough to make this infeasible for companies with fewer than 5 servers or 25 employees, except for those with extensive technology investments to protect) NimBUS appears to me to be one of the best networking management buys around for businesses of any size. Definitely worth a look, and perhaps a download and hands-on trial.

Ed Tittel is a full-time freelance writer, trainer, and consultant who specializes in matters related to information security, markup languages, and networking technologies. He's a regular contributor to numerous TechTarget Web sites, technology editor for Certification Magazine, and writes an e-mail newsletter for CramSession called "Must Know News."

This was last published in February 2005

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