Stormy times for your networks? Time to re-assess your network management software

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Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Those who provide network fault and
performance management software have been experiencing new challenges as technologies
advance and new software emerges. Enterprises using network management software
unchanged for only two years will be behind the curve; in fact the vendors themselves
are struggling to keep up.

Think of the challenges. There is virtualisation—of the servers, storage pools and the networks—which builds in extra
(hidden) layers of complexity in continually mapping the virtual to the
physical. Various trends include a shift towards more server-based shared
applications and content management, service-oriented architecture (SOA) and
software as a service (SaaS). Conversely, there is also peer-to-peer networking,
as well as converged data and voice sharing the same wire, and wireless
networking for both.

This is all very clever, but also complex
to manage from one central point, and it has also to be seen against a backdrop
of network managers wanting less complexity while they maintain 24/7 live
operation. It is a tricky time for vendors and no single network management
product covers the whole gamut. So what is to be done?

The above provides a mixture of absolute
needs and nice-to-haves and each company should consider them against their own
set-up and future plans. So, for instance, one trend that is becoming a need
for many is referred to as ‘the service provider (SP) model.’ SPs need to securely
manage the systems for a raft of customers, and bill them, although they share
the same total infrastructure. Now some of the larger enterprises realise the
advantage in applying charge-back to their own internal divisions, and the SP
model tends to support this.

Entuity’s ‘Eye of the Storm’ network
management suite provides an illustration of the direction being taken by the
more enlightened network management software vendors. Entuity has just released EYE 08, so I will give an overview to demonstrate the direction. (As with all
vendor releases, the proof will of course be in the eating.)

The software is already geared to the SP
module with service level reporting for accounting and billing. As standard the
progressive network discovery identifies all devices and records them in the
inventory, now with various support levels which improve overall network
visibility. There is then integrated fault and performance management. This has
nowadays to be the bottom line functionality, especially with systems and
networking SLAs to meet.

The focus has also to be on ease of implementation
and support to make the network manager’s life even tolerable. So the software
set-up assumes default values as far as possible, including using probing
devices to ascertain, for instance, what ports are available.

Among the dozen or so major new features,
mostly spread among four new modules, are an expansion of its automated
procedures and better integration to simplify administration and control for
distributed environments.

As standard, discovery results in device
availability being highlighted in green, yellow or red for easy viewing, while
new device lifecycle supporting functions
will assess, provision and decommission equipment. Latency measurement
functionality is also new.

More unusual is a new module that supports
applications running in VMware-virtualised environments for the first time;
VMware ESX servers are treated as devices.

Ken Klapproth, Entuity’s director of
marketing, told me: “Virtual machines [VMs] can be almost invisible.” Yet he
cited a case of what he called “VM sprawl”—an enterprise which reduced 400
physical platforms down to 20 in three months, only for the 400 VMs that helped
achieve this to expand to 1,200 in six months! By then, he said: “they had lost
sight of what and where on their own virtual network.”

This idea may not be totally new to the network
management suites which take a more application-centric view, but I suspect this
need will be growing rapidly in 2008.

EYE’s Executive Reporting module is designed to provide at-a-glance
capacity, availability and performance. New core functionality includes a
network summary, capacity planning heat map, and additional graphical
capabilities. Klapproth says this will pick up very transient capacity pressure
as well as time-based trends, facilitating predictive capacity planning.

EYE’s Netflow Tracker module integrates Fluke’s NetFlow Tracker to
auto-discover Fluke’s NetFlow devices and ports, to assist in determining, for
instance, the reasons behind a network being busy.

The idea of maintaining high productivity is also encapsulated in
easy to follow graphical network maps with one click drill-down and
drag-and-drop update capabilities. Similar in concept are the server health
dashboards which are auto-refreshed and hyperlinked for drill-down. Some concise
executive reports are aimed at faster and better decision-making through the
lifecycle, and more automated fault alerting to eliminate, for instance, the
triggering of unnecessary alerts. There is also a new application flow
integration module.

EYE already had a wireless module, and this has had some updates. But
if there is a criticism, there is yet no word of integrated telecoms and
networks support, with Voice over IP (VoIP) being the catalyst. There is a
rapidly rising need for this since the voice and the data impact each other’s
performance and potentially increase faults. The largest network management
vendors (CA initially and now IBM) are providing their own offerings.

However, among EYE’s lower-end competitors, this is also lacking
and, otherwise, this provides a very neat and pretty comprehensive network
management solution.

Klapproth thinks EYE is now in a sweet-spot, positioned above the
tools vendors whose products do not necessarily scale to the larger
enterprises, and below some of the big-named full network management suite
suppliers whose products are huge and far more expensive. 2008 will be a key
year for Entuity; if successful ‘Eye of the Storm’ could be stirring up a storm
among customers and competitors alike.