Tactical Advice

Going to the Next Level with Network Management

Companies must adjust their networking strategies to accomodate advances in mobility and virtualization.
Going to the Next Level with Network Management
Credit: Wavebreak Media/ThinkStockPhotos

When businesses are ready to take network monitoring and management to the next level, they often opt for more full-functioning enterprise network management software. There are two basic ways to achieve this type of integrated network management — either by using all parts of an integrated network monitoring suite, or by assembling specific products that together make up a full solution.

“A comprehensive tool allows users to gain visibility, control and automation over their network from the time a problem comes into the help desk, or realizing that it could be a problem, to putting a new rule in place,” says Paul Kraeger, worldwide marketing leader for IBM Network Management. “It’s about drilling down, fixing the problem and putting an action in place so it doesn’t happen again.”

A full-fledged, soup-to-nuts approach to network management should:

  • Be able to discover devices and applications
  • Collect data on the health of the network
  • See all devices and subsets of the network
  • Perform root cause analysis to discover problems
  • Use predictive analysis to discover problems likely to occur
  • See application traffic as it is traversing the network
  • Handle IPv6
  • Send alerts about potential problems via several methods, including email, pager and text
  • Scale to handle millions of events
  • Escalate problems
  • Correct some problems using automated processes (such as port resets or restarts)
  • Integrate with other software the organization may be using, such as help-desk software
  • Produce timely and customizable reports, such as a report on a specific part of the network for a specific time period

Many vendors offer a series of tools that address part of the network management puzzle, allowing the organization to combine the tools that make sense into one plug-and-play network management solution. One example is IBM. Together, its Tivoli Netcool/OMNIbus and Network Manager make a comprehensive solution.

Netcool/OMNIbus uses data about physical and logical network connections gathered and stored by Tivoli Network Manager as a basis for its processes, which provides real-time event management, network discovery, network monitoring and network configuration and compliance. Many other vendors use the integrated product approach to network management, including HP, LANDesk, Microsoft Systems Center, Novell ZENworks and Symantec Altiris.

An example of a vendor that prefers the all-in-one approach is Cisco. The company’s Prime Infrastructure product suite combines wired, wireless and remote network management spanning lifecycle, assurance and compliance. In the last year, the product has matured significantly, adding end-to-end network visibility, application traffic analysis and reporting, packet-level debugging, LAN optimization and deep application analysis.

Another is Enterasys. The company’s NetSight Suite includes policy management, identity and access, automated security management, network access control (NAC) management, asset management and mobile device management for both wired and wireless networks. It uses a web-based graphical user interface (GUI) to manage and fix problems.

One of the most important features in a comprehensive network management solution today is the ability to see application traffic traversing the network.

“We were working with a major organization, where the network operations team was frustrated with network performance, which was subpar despite the fact that their network monitoring system showed green across the board,” says Dan Klimke, networking product manager for Fluke Networks. “What they really needed was the ability to drill down and see the actual application traffic in detail, so they could determine where the performance problem was occurring. Most of the time, it’s the only way to identify root cause and fix an issue."

Don’t Forget the Mobile Devices

The sheer number of smartphones and tablets used today — often on the network — is staggering. What’s more, many of them are worker-owned devices that can present security issues if not handled properly. While many entities have implemented some type of mobile device management (MDM) policy and technology, forward-thinking organizations are looking for ways to incorporate mobile device management with their network management strategy.

“The idea is to be able to know as much as possible about what devices are on the network and how they are being used,” Kraeger explains. “We would be able to know, for example, that on the third floor of the facility in the second room, wireless productivity is low. That information is critical to optimizing the network.”

The most common way today to handle managing the network access of mobile devices is by employing a specific solution geared to managing mobile network traffic. Over time, network management systems will begin integrating mobile device management into their systems.

Vendors that are doing well with their stand-alone mobile network management systems are AirWatch, Aruba, Cisco, Enterasys, IBM, MaaS360, Microsoft and Symantec.

As an integrated cloud platform, MaaS360 simplifies MDM with rapid deployment, comprehensive visibility and control spanning across mobile devices, apps and documents. The AirWatch MDM solution facilitates quick device enrollment, configuration and update over the air, security and compliance, access to enterprise resources and remote lock and wipe.

Aruba’s AirWave Network Management offers full monitoring and troubleshooting capabilities. The Enterasys Mobile Identity Access Manager provides everything from granular policy management and real-time tracking to full threat response and security information and event management (SEIM). While Microsoft offers its Intune and System Center solutions, IBM its Endpoint Manager and Symantec its Mobile Management solution.

Cisco has also made progress in combining wired and wireless network management with its Prime Infrastructure product. During the past year, it has merged formerly stand-alone MDM functionality into its Prime Infrastructure product.

“Organizations tend to have different mobile use policies for different types of users and situations, which complicates network management,” says Mahesh Bommareddy, director of product management for Cisco’s Wireless Networking group. “You need to be able to not only manage those policies, but troubleshoot and manage in a way that combines assurance and compliance for both the wired and wireless network.”

SDN and the Future of Networking

For many organizations, the future may be a hybrid of the traditional network infrastructure and software-defined networking (SDN), often regarded as the next-generation network. SDN is a more flexible, software-oriented network environment with many network management benefits, including improved visibility, programmability and provisioning of network resources.

While today’s network management tends to be reactive, SDN is more proactive, explains Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research Associates. Doyle expects early adopters to be organizations whose networks are critical parts of their IT infrastructure.

Vendors are already jumping on board. HP is one of the first out of the gate. The HP Virtual Application Networks SDN Controller, expected to be released this year, offers a dynamic control plane with the intelligence to automate and program the network to enable network agility.

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