Netcordia has upped the stakes in the Network Configuration and Change Management (NCCM) market with its introduction of NetMRI 3.0, which adds detailed impact analysis, available immediately.
Probably the biggest fear facing network managers is what will happen when a change occurs. In my experience a vast majority of networks faults arise out of changes and this is borne out by Netcordia's own new customer survey of over 450 network managers, to which 64% respondents identified change as the number one cause of problems. It is in this area that the much hyped NCCM software will prove itself—or otherwise.
The credit crunch is only exacerbating the potential for problems as staffing levels reduce—which could easily include the departure of some network support and management staff. In fact, 30% of those surveyed had experienced or anticipated staff lay-offs within networking in the coming months.
So what does this mean in practice? Its survey showed some organisations cutting back on projects, others working longer hours and others looking for help from better or more automated tools. Netcordia scores on the last count because it is probably more automated than any of its peers. Meanwhile, there is added pressure from regulatory and internal policy compliance which can apply down to network device level.
"Change must happen, but what is the impact [i.e. on the network]?" Netcordia's VP of marketing Yama Habibzai told me this week. "You need to know who, what, when and where—and is the company abiding with compliance rules—to the ‘gold' standard, or are they failing?"
Compliance with policies right down to network device level is a growing problem, covering issues such as payment card (PCI) or Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) requirements as well as internal policy implementation.
Habibzai explained that NetMRI ships with around 200 rules with best practices and their impacts incorporated which help enforce compliance and standardisation through an organisation. A wizard-like interface is provided for users to deploy all their policies in a pick and mix from the templates—which allows collaboration on the policies and includes manager approvals.
The proof will be in the eating of course, but one example is a policy which states "Apply PCI across the entire network; go." No further action is needed, and afterwards the system can automatically vet changes to see if they violate the implemented rules. This is all about doing more with less when resources are stretched.
New diagnostics can highlight the impact of even the smallest changes—something which some other vendors may consider too insignificant (but which have been known to produce devastating results). The intention is that the network manager will always have his finger on the pulse.
With this in mind, a graphical interface provides a series of multi-dimensional web-based displays that help guide the user into what is going on. For instance, a timeline dashboard shows changes over time to assist in root cause analysis and give clues as to the health of the network and policy-adherence. Some topology status views show where in the network the change occurred—which can overlay both the health and compliance status information for the location with dependencies. Then its Network Explorer software provides ad hoc analysis which can throw up commonality in effects related to device attributes. This information was always present, but previously in spreadsheet ‘rows and columns' format.
It is anyway the case that, for a new user, the NetMRI software will install in under 15 minutes, after which it will discover the network and topology. The software may not have all the bells and whistles of some high-end products—but they carry a higher price tag alongside a need for more specialised staff skills to manage complexity.
This tells me Netcordia—and its users—ought to be in a better place than some NCCM vendors and users to weather the fallout of the 2009 economic squeeze.