Visionael tracks assets for network vulnerability

Managing the distributed complexities of an ever-changing enterprise network carries inherent risks, both personally to the CIO or network administrator, as well as to the new technology being implemented should that critical first installation fail.

The implementation of voice over IP (VoIP), for example, might fail because the network manager doesn’t know what’s on the network and which devices are unlikely to support the application. When he rolls out a new application, he needs to understand what the network looks like.

“Network asset and configuration management is a high priority with projects such as application management, security, data centre consolidation and VoIP,” said Vincent Lui, senior analyst, network management at IDC.

Key drivers for enterprise spending in this area, says Lui, are business processes, automation and regulatory compliance. Businesses want immediate return on investment and simple deployment, without having to alter their existing infrastructures. “The automation, discovery and management of network assets can minimize mean time to failure and repair, as well as bring visibility to inventory almost instantly,” he said.

One vendor that is re-entering the Canadian market is Visionael Corp. of Palo Alto, Calif. Christopher Thompson, vice-president of product management and marketing, says network spending is on the upswing in Canada and some features in Visionael’s Network Resource Manager (NRM) 7.3 software upgrade were designed for a Canadian customer.

Thompson has noticed changes in the way networks are being used to drive businesses to compete, as well as changes in the enterprise market, primarily driven by VoIP, storage area networks (SANs) and 10GigE (10Gbps Ethernet). Network transformation, says Thompson, is being driven by the replacement of infrastructure that is now seven to eight years old. “The cost to enterprise businesses to support their legacy networks is very high,” he said. “On top of that, you’ve got companies talking about voice over IP and 10GigE. Those types of technologies cause companies to have to re-architect their networks.”

“The adoption of network asset management products is being triggered by network issues encountered after an IP-based implementation such as site-to-site VoIP,” said Darin Stahl, research lead at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

IDC’s Lui said the most activity by medium to large enterprises adopting IP-based environments was in upgrading and consolidating data centre infrastructure from remote offices. “VoIP infrastructure upgrades and wireless LAN adoption are also high on the uptake,” said Lui. “And virtual private LAN services are being implemented by enterprises with multiple branch offices or regional headquarters.”

As large enterprises, government organizations and telecommunication service providers increasingly move towards an IP-based environment, the risks created by network change can be reduced by identifying the devices that live on the network and documenting the system’s design.

The Visionael NRM software automatically discovers what the network looks like and documents the topology in a visual model. “Companies can then understand how their networks operate and how devices are connected. And that becomes a foundation for change management,” said Thompson. “Once we’ve established what a network looks like, we can put in place a multi-step plan to get to our eventual end-result.”

Thompson says many users import their CAD diagrams into Visionael and overlay the infrastructure on top of it, so they can see the floor of their building and locate the devices on the network. “That way, if there’s a vulnerability or service issue on the network, a quick report can identify visually exactly where the affected device is located.”

The product incorporates a number of different components. The discovery tool places a probe on the network. The probe uses simple network management protocol (SNTP), along with a number of other discovery tactics, to scan the network. Once the device is identified, it’s ready for the J-walk, which is a query of the device to see how it’s configured.

The information taken from this network audit is fed into the core product, NRM, which houses a database of devices encountered in the network, as well as how these devices are configured and connected. A user can then use NRM’s Visionael Studio tool to review a current network design or plan changes to that design.

The ability to demonstrate that a company’s infrastructure can support its business processes is a core requirement for Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

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