More to the point, how are you managing your network? Judging by what IDC Canada has seen from numerous market research studies, plus hundreds of individual conversations we’ve had with users and service suppliers alike, the answer appears to be many are not managing at all. And those who do are typically performing little beyond basic element management of their network devices and traffic monitoring. Not exactly a platform upon which to enable the exciting and revolutionary promise of real-time interactive distributed computing that many are suggesting will change the way we live, work, play, learn and who knows what else.

Comprehensive systems and applications management is a function performed by only a small minority of Canadian businesses. Administrative concepts such as policy-based management are practically unheard of as implemented solutions.

Given what we’ve all been hearing about the growing importance of networks and the advent of concepts such as e-commerce and multi-service IP (voice, video and data on a single network infrastructure), the situation is alarming. The LAN and WAN are worlds of chaos.

Corporate IS has always complained that comprehensive enterprise management has two major knocks-it’s too damned expensive and excruciatingly difficult to deploy the full function of comprehensive high-level administrative toolkits.

When it comes to LAN administration, management usually focuses on keeping the network alive, ensuring that it does not fail as a communications mechanism. Performance is secondary, since most IS professionals are daunted by the task of attempting to optimize traffic flows through policies and quality of service schemes, which would involve the swapping out of unmanaged devices and applications, plus many, many hours of configuration, maintenance and fine tuning. In addition, there is the issue of the resources needed, not only to simply monitor all of the activity taking placing in a distributed environment, but to address problems that occur and provide direct intervention by network administration staff. Couple all of this with the general lack of expertise most Canadian businesses has around enterprise management and it’s easy to see why most would rather not bother with management.

However, businesses will soon not have much choice and will be moved to impose much more management capability within their communications infrastructures. That’s assuming that everyone wants to get to this Promised Land of a connected world.

As anytime/anywhere access continues to define the style of most enterprise computing, there’s a need for high reliability and optimal performance. Innovation has seen LAN speeds, over a relatively short time, increase by many orders of magnitude to the point where performance has been subjugated by durability. The corporate network cannot be down, since so much commerce is being negotiated and transacted remotely by sales forces and a host of executives armed with laptop and other portable computing systems.

Wait until e-commerce takes hold. The future will then see the need for a much more versatile distributed platform that can provide multi-service communications. Businesses will need to provide a much faster commerce transacting engine, much more content capability, much greater security, plus a means of direct and real-time interaction with customers. Management will be the glue that binds everything together or more accurately, the brain that controls the body of future commerce.

So how’s your network going to manage in the future?

Selectively is probably a good bet. Most can’t go it alone. A familiar refrain is that companies typically cannot afford to retain the network management skills and brains necessary, so there’s a strong business case to hand-off to a reliable services organization as much of the network’s functionality as possible. Many of the day-to-day tasks of network administration-help desk, monitoring, implementation activities (moves, adds and changes), fault corrections-are the typical activities being outsourced these days. IDC has observed organizations increasingly contracting with outside service providers for a wide range of selective outsourcing engagements, including: network monitoring, asset management, backup, network recovery, and security management services-as businesses look to free their IS departments to focus on core businesses and long-term strategic objectives.

The simple message here is that network dependency is exploding, as LANs and WANs are used by more people in more places for more computing activities. Management still remains the weak link and this must change soon. The computing world is at a point in IT history where there will be little advancement towards making concepts like e-commerce and networking everywhere a reality until management is imposed in a more stringent and comprehensive fashion. Networking everywhere will mean administration everywhere.

That’s why we’ll all be doing much more to manage our networks.