Making Network Management Simple, Effective, and Rewarding

Managing a network can be daunting, especially if your small or mid-sized business (SMB) lacks a full-time IT expert or dedicated IT department.

By Darryl Brick | Posted Sep 20, 2010
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Managing a network can be daunting, especially if your small or mid-sized business (SMB) lacks a full-time IT expert or dedicated IT department. It is not unusual for the role of “network manager” to be added to an employee's real title – as in President/Network Manager, Sales Rep/Network Manager, or Administrative Assistant/Network Manager.

Regardless of their size, businesses generally need networks that operate optimally 24/7 – providing secure and reliable access to the resources, applications, data, communications services, and collaborative capabilities required to function well in our modern economy.

Unfortunately, many network owners and users have no clue what is going on in their networks. Without such visibility, they are left to wonder – and often worry – about the security and performance of their networks, and whether they are optimizing their networks' potential.

Among SMBs, there are vast differences in what “network management” actually means.

These differences depend on both the size of the organization – a small firm with a handful of employees versus a 250-person mid-sized company – as well as its industry. Network management solutions can range from the simple (taking advantage of a switch's built-in Web-based management functionalities) to the highly sophisticated (using dedicated, enterprise-class network management software), as well as anything in between.

The point for all SMBs, however, is to harness the network as a driver toward business success. The good news is that network management need not be complicated, expensive, or intimidating.

What do SMBs need?

When it comes to managing a network, here are some common needs that transcend an SMB's size, industry, or geographic location:

  • Monitoring the availability and status of network switches.
  • Monitoring network traffic on a switch, in real time.
  • Ensuring the security of the network, including threat management and authentication of devices and users accessing the network.
  • Troubleshooting network performance issues.
  • Managing wired and wireless networks from a single point of control.
  • Deploying and managing converged media, including voice-over-IP (VoIP) and video capabilities.
  • Configuring or reconfiguring ports, virtual LANs (VLANs), and backup switches.
  • Viewing switch logs (i.e., monitoring historical activities).

Not surprisingly, this list looks very similar to the list that would be compiled for a large global enterprise. The scale of networking solutions differs with size, but the underlying needs for security, performance, reliability, and scalability – and manageability – are just as important for an office of five as for an organization of 500,000.

One of the biggest differences between a giant enterprise and a small business is in the level of in-house IT expertise available. Enterprises have entire departments devoted to IT and network management, while SMBs might have little or no dedicated networking expertise.

For that reason, it makes sense that SMBs begin by choosing network management approaches that are easy to use and master. Equally important, however, is that the network management tools you choose today be able to scale up as needed – if and when you require greater levels of management sophistication.

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