IT Can Be Choosey With Network Management

eWEEK Product Update: Tools have matured, giving managers real choices for analyzing faults, monitoring service levels and managing devices.

Network monitoring tools ranging from Hewlett-Packards OpenView to Silverback Technologies InfoCare are entering a third stage of maturity.

But this upward spike in product usability doesnt mean that IT managers should buy every single one of these tools. IT managers need an element manager that can provide fault information, one or two service-level monitoring and management tools, and enough budget and staff to make sure these tools are integrated into the help desk system.

Networks grew tremendously in the 1980s, and management systems such as the Enterasys (then Cabletrons) Spectrum and HPs OpenView—along with a host of brand-specific element tools—started knitting together what we now know as network management. Many of the early problems have been overcome, including floods of false-positive alerts, cross-platform blind spots and immature configuration tools from equipment makers.

After experimenting with and rejecting the overarching enterprise management systems (they were a good idea, and one that may yet have some benefit in the future) in the 90s, IT managers can now choose among mature products from a much-winnowed field. This means that nearly every sales pitch is going to sound good, but IT managers need to bring some common sense back to the discussion, especially when it comes to service levels.

When dealing with the still-brassy service-level vendors, break the products into two groups. External service-level agreements should be monitored with reports provided by the ISP and, at least at the beginning, by one or more tools controlled by the enterprise. Measurement tools such as Compuwares PointForward can answer the question "what did the end user experience?"

The second group, internal service levels—which should really be called service rationing—should be methodically set up whenever a new application is introduced or the network topology changes. Then, leave them alone and monitor traffic trends over time. The general trends are often much more interesting (especially when presenting to senior executives) than the day-by-day action on the network.

E-mail eWEEK Labs Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant