Tools of the trade

One of the major problems with managing a complex network is that anything can go wrong at any time. Enterprises are in need of comprehensive network management solutions that are scalable, reliable and flexible. Sound like wishful thinking? According to analysts, there are some new leaders sweeping this space who are introducing innovative tools and solutions that are designed to address these requirements to make network management as hassle-free as possible.

Dan McLean, research manager for IDC Canada in Toronto, says it is a higher level of discussion to determine what it is people attempt to do when managing their networks. He said the whole base level of a comprehensive management approach is to have some kind of monitoring system in place in order to understand what all the hubs and routers are doing.

“The whole issue of monitoring is to assess the performance of your network and (apply) that information and try to figure out how you might optimize your network,” he says. “The problem is that a significant number of people don’t monitor their networks to that level.”

McLean added that beyond monitoring, there is management – a significant step up from basic monitoring.

“That’s when you see tools like…Tivoli’s (NetView) being used. These are extremely sophisticated tools that are very rich and very challenging to deploy.”

He explained that when deployed correctly, these management tools have proven to be very effective for network, application and systems management.

Deborah vanPetegen, Tivoli availability specialist, noted that network management has become somewhat of a commodity. She says network managers should look at how management tools integrate with enterprise system management, with inventory and asset management as well as with an alert management system.

“Integration pieces are a big thing to look into,” she says.

Filling the Toolbox

Two years ago, analysts would have put Cabletron’s Spectrum Enterprise Manager at the head of the class in management tools, with Hewlett-Packard’s OpenView at a close second. But today, OpenView has taken the lead. According to McLean, HP is the mainstay for people who are attempting to manage their networks.

OpenView is a software suite consisting of upwards of forty products that HP says allows its customers to manage IT operations more efficiently with less time, people and money. Its flagship product, OpenView Network Node Manager, provides in-depth views of the network in an intuitive graphical format. Network Node Manager discovers network devices and provides a map to illustrate what the network actually looks like. The multi-level map indicates which devices and network segments are healthy and which areas need attention.

George Vesnaver, HP Canada’s regional director for software, says that although there is still the old connotation that OpenView spells Network Node Manager, OpenView is in fact much broader.

“Network Node Manager is really the foundation,” Vesnaver says, “and if you tier your IT infrastructure, it is kind of the lowest layer that sits above the routers and switches and all the different network protocols. It’s got its feelers and can sense the health of the environment.”

Richard L. Ptak, vice-president of systems and applications management with the Hurwitz Group in Framingham, Mass., gives second place standing in the network tool rankings to Tivoli’s NetView solution. NetView discovers TCP/IP networks, displays network topologies, correlates and manages events and SNMP traps, monitors network health, and gathers performance data. Ptak noted that Tivoli, as well as some smaller emerging companies, are giving HP OpenView some intense competition.

According to Tivoli’s vanPetegen, a key feature of NetView is root-cause analysis. “Instead of your whole map going red, it pinpoints the problem,” she explained.

IDC’s McLean says there are a number of tools that are designed to manage separate elements of a network.

“If you were just trying to figure out the type of traffic that is going across your network, there are tools that do that.”

On the road to perfection

Although OpenView and NetView have seemed to settle themselves comfortably at the top of the market, Hurwitz’s Ptak says that these solutions are not perfect. He explained that although companies are making progress, there is still quite a ways to go in the area of network management.

Ptak suggested vendors need to better structure the levels of service that are available to clients, as well as how those clients get access to those services.

“They have everything from very na