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WAN network monitoring and management convergence alters SLAs, tool requirements

A lack of network specialists in the IT workforce has caused WAN network monitoring and management to converge into one network operation. This increases the complexity of service-level agreement (SLAs) and network monitoring tools. Read this tip to learn what today's SLAs and monitoring tools need.

This tip is a continuation of How your WAN network monitoring strategy must evolve. To understand how labor workforce restraints and technology have altered WAN network monitoring strategies, read part 1 first. To learn how the convergence of WAN network monitoring and management has changed the face of monitoring tools and SLAs, keep reading.

The trend to integrate WAN network monitoring into management is driven in part by the increased difficulty of attracting and retaining qualified network specialists. Twenty years ago, it was possible for most enterprises to find employees with experience in analyzing network protocols and network device status -- a good thing, given that most companies built their wide area networks (WANs) from switches, routers and circuits. Today, more companies are purchasing high-level services like virtual private networks (VPNs), in part because of the difficulty of filling network specialist jobs. This shift toward higher-layer services is also changing WAN network monitoring and management focus.

How WAN network monitoring and management convergence changes SLAs
When enterprises buy a high-level service -- like a VPN or a managed service where an operator takes responsibility for the network -- the notion of a service-level agreement (SLA) takes on new meaning. SLAs for high-level/managed services are essentially promises of network performance that cede the details of how the promises are kept to the provider. Network operations managers and planners then focus on monitoring not the service per se but the SLA itself. This gives rise to what could be called "service boundary management," where the focus of the management processes is to monitor the interfaces where managed services are delivered and measure the service parameters that the SLA guarantees.

But nearly all enterprises rely to some degree on their own devices for networking within their sites, and so they must combine SLA management/monitoring capability with traditional device management and monitoring. This makes the integrated management system all the more important. The high-level health monitoring of the network must first determine who is responsible for fixing something; then, for problems within the enterprise's own network, it must isolate faults that will end in some specific remediation, like replacing or reconfiguring a device.

Increasingly, enterprises look to vendors to resolve the problems with their hardware, and that means that even internal network monitoring and management is aimed at identifying a problem source rather than "fixing the problem" at the detailed level. Enterprises report in surveys that problem isolation to a specific vendor is their greatest challenge and the source of the widely publicized "finger-pointing" problem. Many say that their primary monitoring goal is to unequivocally identify the vendor responsible for an internal network problem so that vendor can be made to resolve the problem effectively.

How WAN network monitoring and management convergence affect tool requirements
The changes in the way monitoring is used and action is taken on monitoring results have an impact on monitoring technology choices. The No. 1 requirement for any network monitoring tool is its ability to integrate with high-level network management platforms. The second most significant issue is support for sufficiently detailed drilldown to device and interface information to permit reliable problem isolation to a single component and vendor. At this point, the enterprise can either swap out a device for a spare or activate vendor support processes to reliably and quickly respond to the problem.

Enterprises increasingly rely on vendors and outsourcers to fix network problems and thus focus their management/monitoring activity on determining who is responsible for something rather than on fixing the problem itself. This trend is likely to drive the market further toward higher-level management, and network monitoring and network management will increasingly become two stages of analysis under a single network operations center umbrella.

Tom Nolle
Tom Nolle

About the author:
Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982. He is the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal addressing advanced telecommunications strategy issues. Check out his SearchTelecom.com networking blog Uncommon Wisdom.


This was last published in March 2010

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