Users demand better net hardware management

While network equipment makers have reinforced the management elements in their routers, switches, accelerators and voice equipment, customers still want more.

Hardware vendors have long supplemented their gear with management applications — take CiscoWorks, for example — but industry watchers say the trend is to make gear easier to manage alongside competitive hardware and by third-party software applications such as CA Unicenter, HP OpenView and IBM Tivoli.

Companies such as Avaya, Cisco, Citrix, Extreme Networks and Nortel are upgrading their management offerings. For example, Avaya and Extreme last year integrated their respective Avaya Integrated Management and EPICenter products, and later this year are expected to release software upgrades for Avaya IP phones and Extreme LAN switches that will let Extreme switches discover and self-configure network settings for Avaya IP phones plugged into an Extreme LAN port. The discovery process will use Link Layer Discovery Protocol and 802.1X authentication, allowing Avaya IP phones to be authenticated and secured, and to receive the proper QoS settings on the Extreme switch.

“There has been such a long history of difficult deployments on the management software side that more hardware vendors are building manageability into their gear or establishing stronger connections to management with either partnerships or acquisitions,” says George Hamilton, director of enterprise computing and networking at the Yankee Group.

For instance, Cisco staged a management blitz at the end of last year, adding management software to its portfolio, with its Network Application Performance Analysis (NAPA) strategy. With NAPA, the vendor promises to release management software applications for its gear as well as for applications running over Cisco networks.

Nortel expanded the reach of its Optivity product line with its updated Enterprise Network Management System, which the company says encompasses network and advanced IP application management — think voice, video and wireless.

More recently, Citrix acquired Reflectent Software, a vendor tackling application performance on user desktops, to incorporate management into its application virtualization and NetScaler acceleration technologies.

In addition, acceleration newcomers such as Silver Peak Systems have released standalone appliances to help customers manage the many acceleration devices deployed across distributed networks and WANs. “Initiatives such as voice over IP and complex acceleration technologies that require a lot of configuration have taught customers some hard lessons about using existing management software for newer IP applications,” Hamilton says.

According to a Yankee Group study, most customers expect their equipment makers to step up and provide more management capabilities in their gear. “End users are saying that some level of management is essentially the responsibility of the hardware vendor,” Hamilton says. And many customers agree.

“We chose Avaya to manage our voice network over third-party software products because of the API hook into the telephone devices. If I used other software, I’d need third-party plug-ins to the devices,” says Kevin McPhee, manager for network control at Converged Solutions in Glen Allen, Va.

“Still the biggest challenge across our IP telephony networks is gaining the visibility into IP devices and being able to look at traffic from the device in both directions,” McPhee says. “There needs to be more management intelligence in the device.”

Management features wrapped into a single-purpose appliance, such as the recent release from Silver Peak, is a welcome development for Mitch Nabors, IT manager at Quality Built, a San Diego-based construction services company.

He uses several PC and server-based management tools requiring dedicated hardware — for example, SonicWall’s ViewPoint for monitoring his Check Point firewalls.

Quality Built also uses Silver Peak WAN acceleration appliances and recently started beta-testing that vendor’s new Global Management System (GMS), which is a bundled network management and configuration tool.

“It’s nice that I don’t have to delegate an existing host to monitoring tasks,” Nabors says. “We use a couple of different monitoring tools that came with existing hardware we purchased, to add on for more reporting capabilities. It’s kind of hard to allocate resources just for monitoring and nothing more.”

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