How to Improve Network Availability While Lowering Operational Expenses

Choosing the right tools for software consolidation and management of dispersed, geographically and architecturally diverse networks can be a real challenge. Knowledge Center contributor Scott Steves reports that this challenge can be met by the right network management software, adherence to industry standards and standard methodologies, and by keeping organizational goals in mind.

/images/stories/70x50/bug_knowledgecenter_70x70_(2).jpgThere's always a little hesitation when organizational change takes place. But when our departments at State of Kansas were mandated to find ways to consolidate operations and boost staff productivity, our group in Networking Services decided we were ready for the challenge. Ultimately, we experienced improved network availability and performance, increased staff efficiencies and lowered operational expenses.

Below I've provided five tips that I learned when going through our technology infrastructure transformation. Keep these in mind the next time your organization hears someone utter the words "consolidate" and "boost." It's not as difficult as you think.

Tip #1: Implement standardized management methodologies wherever possible

As with many state governments, we relied on an infrastructure which spanned dozens of agencies and services, including the Departments of Labor, Corrections and Transportation--to name just a few. We also operated in a heterogeneous environment with various operating systems--with tens of thousands of employees, several hundred contractors and hundreds of thousands of citizens accessing our services daily. With a network this complex, it was critical from an efficiency perspective to implement standardized management methodologies.

We found that HP provides a number of solutions that best fit our needs. This includes HP NNM (Network Node Manager) i-series software and its performance add-on, for fault and performance management. We also use its Network Automation product for network change and configuration management, which is integrated with NNM.

Using industry-standard integrated software such as this for fault, configuration and performance solutions ensures that different viewing parties will view the same data. This results in reduced training costs, easier product maintenance and better MTTR (Mean Time To Repair). Not to mention that it also alleviated the need to unnecessarily spend money on point products.

Tip #2: Consider replacing point-to-point tool providers

After using management software for a while, it became apparent that a number of our "point" management tools could easily be replaced. This replacement reduced the number of network management tools in use across our network, which translated into tens of thousands of dollars saved on an annual basis. The fewer the tools, the lower the software licensing cost--but, more importantly, were the efficiencies gained in a standardized management environment.

A common interface--using the same software--reduces complexity in a management environment. This means it's easier to maintain. And, since there are fewer applications running, you're also minimizing training costs. For example, instead of running a separate fault and performance product, HP's network performance tool is an add-on to their existing fault product. A less complex management environment also reduces the risk of technical glitches that can result in network downtime.

Tip #3: Software should support the organization's consolidation goals

The wide variety of available management software can be daunting when trying to decide what's best for your organization. It's important to look at your organization's consolidation goals and purchase software that aligns with this.

My department required software that was not a vendor-specific management tool because we did not want to worry about which vendor's network equipment we needed to support. We also needed software that easily scaled across our entire infrastructure, making sure it would not encounter issues even after monitoring 1,000 nodes.

Tip #4: Pay attention to the richness of the portfolio

When evaluating management software, it's also important to evaluate the "functional density" of the portfolio. By that I mean an integrated portfolio that delivers as much of the capability that you need as possible. This will allow you to do more without adding unnecessary complexity to the toolset or interfaces.

We were able to reduce the State of Kansas' network's MTTR by at least 15-20 percent by taking advantage of such software features. When organizations are able to reduce MTTR, it improves both the quality of network service and staff productivity-which translates into significant cost savings. Even more importantly, reducing MTTR improves network availability. Our state's improved network availability was even cited as an example of program success in the Kansas State Legislature. And last, having a single, unified and standardized interface with ease-of-use features saves our operators hundreds of hours per year.

Tip #5: Automate whenever possible

Use network automation software to track and regulate network configuration and software changes. This will make it easy to correlate changes with faults. We learned the value of this during a recent upgrade of network hardware. Change management in a network of our size can be a daunting task but, with the automation software, we did not have to monitor configuration changes manually. Instead, the software managed this.

To summarize, implementing standardized business service management software was the right decision for my organization, especially during the tough economic times. And it could be the answer to your challenges as well. Be sure to look for standardized management software that aligns with your organization's goals, research the richness of the tools and use automation software whenever possible.

/images/stories/heads/knowledge_center/steves_scott70x70.jpg Scott Steves works in the Network Analysis Group as a Systems Network Software Consultant for the Division of Information Systems & Communications at the State of Kansas. In this position, Mr. Steves provides research and support for the network and configuration management solutions within this enterprise environment. He can be reached at