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The Tao of automated network management

Integration of network management tools is the first step toward an automated future and requires a proactive approach with service providers.

Integration of network management tools is the first step toward an automated future and requires a proactive approach with service providers.

Today's enterprise depends on the availability and performance of hundreds of applications to deliver business services. The implementation and delivery of business services is increasingly distributed, integrated, interdependent and complex. But all too often, management tools consist of a varied collection of homegrown and acquired tools, each operating in its own context and with little if any thought given to data sharing or exploitation. Therefore, the beleaguered and put-upon network manager must resort to time-intensive, resource-devouring, and error-prone manual integration of data to understand what exactly is happening in the network.

Despite the opinions to the contrary, managing a network involves more than checking the operation of routers and switches while verifying the integrity of the physical path. It's more than catching events and monitoring traffic loads. The task is all about the successful delivery of the business services that drive enterprise revenue. This requires a focus on more than the physical connections, traffic loads and an occasional update to routing tables.

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For too long, network "management" has been treated as a domain consisting primarily of isolated tools that monitor network devices and traffic. Today, emerging networked services will require proactive management of networks and the applications that run on them. Only when distributed services and applications operate effectively across the total network will they deliver competitive advantages to an enterprise.

This all sounds like a future fantasy -- but if you listen to the plans for integrated services that include real-time "follow-me" data transformation that allows content to move from TV to laptop to mobile phone to PDA, the challenge is there.

Implementing such services requires true integration of all of the functions of a dynamic, heterogeneous infrastructure. The solution will not be found in simple integration of existing separate systems and network device management solutions. The delivery of mobile, follow-me services means that management must be seamless, integrated and trouble-free as the very infrastructure (devices, transmission media, security context, etc.) that conveys, displays, protects and presents content undergoes real-time change.

Realizing this promise requires improvements in management solutions. What is needed is a fully automated and integrated infrastructure management solution that includes monitoring -- and the analytical ability to proactively identify and remedy potential problems well before services are disrupted. Manually intensive, point-in-time tools lacking network-wide views and automated correlation of failures and anomalies cannot support emerging network and change-intensive IP- and service-based applications.

What does this mean to the network operations team today? First and foremost, they need to plan their move to more automated management and service-oriented operations. Then they have to start thinking how to accelerate this move. An IP-based service, even with some QoS degradation, is moving and will continue to move into the enterprise. Competitive pressures are too strong, while the price point is too attractive to ignore. The evolution is already under way.

The network team must understand the gaps in the network management plans of their current suppliers. Learn about the integrated, automated service-creation and protection tools already available, and make it clear you don't expect to have to integrate management solutions. Ask your management solutions providers how they will function in a totally dynamic network environment. If, today, they are comfortable with "event catching" from the network, with the load management, device management, configuration management, security and so on provided by someone else, make it clear that you think systems and network management should be seamlessly integrated. Make it clear to your service provider, the NSM vendors wooing you, and your network device provider that the responsibility of an integrated management solution rests on their shoulders. You have a network to support.

I'd like to hear your comments, questions and suggestions. Please send them to me at: editor@searchnetworking.com.

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 Digital Equipment Corporation. He is frequently quoted in the trade press and is author of Manager's Guide to Distributed Environments.

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