The next wave in network management - Page 3

By Lynn Haber | Posted Apr 1, 1999
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Looking for answers

For the IT department at Refco Group Ltd., SLM tools translate into network baselining, as well as providing answers to key issues such as service availability. "E-mail would come to a halt, and it would take hours before we'd find out about it, problem-solve, and get the service up and running again," explains William Quinlan, director of global communications, at the New York City-based futures and commodity firm.

Lessons learned about service-level management

  • Map a strategy before implementing SLM software, i.e., observe usage patterns and end-users' performance requirements.

  • Plan where SLM software will be deployed, addressing the most vocal users, mission-critical applications, and servers first.

  • Define service-level goals and objectives.

  • Define SLM metrics or data that need to be collected.

  • Define service-level objectives to reflect actual business processes.

  • Determine "normal" levels of performance before committing to service levels.
  • To combat such service-related problems affecting Refco's 2,000 business users in 22 worldwide offices, IT officials earlier this year implemented the Trinity suite of SLM products from Avesta Technologies Inc., also of New York City. This implementation was part of the company's complete network overhaul that got under way several years ago.

    Prior to rebuilding its network infrastructure from the cabling on up, Refco had a variety of network technologies; no standards; multiple e-mail systems; shared Ethernet hubs without any backup, security or monitoring; and scattered responsibility for keeping the network up and running, according to Quinlan, who recently left the company. When the firm changed its business model from a "do your own thing as long as it's profitable" model to a more structured business model, the technology to support it followed suit, says Quinlan.

    After rebuilding the LAN and WAN last fall, the IT department saw a reduction in its total communication costs by at least 20%, according to Quinlan, "but we had no tools in place yet to monitor the network," he says.

    The Avesta product came to Quinlan via word of mouth. Quinlan says he was impressed with Trinity's focus on service levels and the product's ability to not only manage outages, but to determine the impact at the individual user level. Trinity can also identify what's down in the network--even at the service levels--on the firm's 60-plus Windows NT servers, he says.

    Quinlan says NT services tend to lock up more than they should. Prior to implementing Trinity, for instance, Refco's IT department wasn't always aware that the server, while appearing to be up and running just fine, wasn't delivering services such as Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange, to users.

    While acknowledging Trinity is not yet a full-fledged network management tool, that's the direction Avesta plans to take the product, according to Quinlan, who has discussed Avesta's direction with company officials. Refco currently uses the Spectrum network-management software from Cabletron Systems Inc., of Rochester, N.Y., for statistical reporting on the network links.

    Refco officials view SLM as a tool to develop and maintain a relationship between users and technology. In an industry where the work mentality is about immediacy and being able to communicate with users about the nature of an IT problem--and when they can expect it to be resolved-this relationship is extremely valuable, Quinlan says.

    Prior to using Trinity, an e-mail outage at Refco took three to four hours to fix. Today, using the SLM tool, e-mail outage identification and resolution time at the company has been cut by more than half. And that, says Quinlan, hits home with the Refco's users.

    To serve business objectives

    SLM promotes the idea that the network is a resource that exists to serve business objectives. According to IDC's Rainge, today's SLM products are primarily monitoring tools that provide a network group with forward-looking information that's easy to understand. "These products take the technology aspects of the network and hide them and [they] look at general network trends," Rainge says. SLM tools leave the task of making any changes to the network up to network-management team members once they've read the SLM reports.

    Some SLM products available now

    Avesta Technologies Inc., New York, N.Y.
    Product: Trinity
    http://www.avesta.com

    Concord Communications Inc., Marlborough, Mass.
    Product: Network Health
    http://www.concord.com

    DeskTalk Systems Inc., Torrance, Calif.
    Product: Trend
    http://www.desktalk.com

    International Network Services (INS), InSoft product division, Sunnyvale, Calif.
    Product: VitalSuite
    http://www.ins-insoft.com

    Micromuse Inc., San Francisco, Calif.
    Product: Netcool
    http://www.micromuse.com

    NextPoint Networks, Westford, Mass.
    Product: Street Savvy Software, or S3
    http://www.nextpoint.com

    The trend at Tenneco was recently consolidated data centers. And Rich Shoup, a project manager at the $7 billion automobile and packaging company based in Greenwich, Conn., needed a way to manage them. So at the beginning of 1998 he went shopping for an SLM tool. "I wanted to be able to get a single view of the business system as a whole so that when a link somewhere went down, I knew what application was impacted," he says.

    Shoup believed an SLM tool would give him timely information he could use to inform business managers about the status of the network and critical applications, as well as a means to tie service levels to costs, since the company has plans to move to a charge-back system.

    He selected San Francisco-based Micromuse Inc.'s Netcool, which he saw demonstrated at an industry trade show. Shoup says he likes Netcool's ability to normalize events on disparate devices and divide them up by view. The network managers at Tenneco see about 5,000 network events a day. Using a Micromuse-provided gateway to Mountain View, Calif.-based Remedy Corp.'s help desk tools, the product automatically generates trouble tickets based on a pre-selected level of severity and sends them to the proper group for repair--an unwieldy task technicians used to have to perform manually.

    Netcool is now the only tool network managers at Tenneco use to monitor network events, down from several products that only monitored specific vendor devices, such as those from Bay Networks Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif., or Cisco Systems Inc., of San Jose, Calif., says Shoup. "We've cut down on the cost of training for technicians," he says, adding that Tenneco hopes to cut training costs by 25%.

    But the biggest benefit Tenneco IT officials have found using the SLM tool is a timely way to solve problems. "We can run reports by division, server name, anything we want," Shoup says.

    The bottom line on SLM

    At this point, companies buy SLM tools to improve network/application performance efficiencies. So, while most network managers aren't calculating a dollar return on investment for the SLM tools they purchase, they report seeing ROI in terms of efficiencies. For example, managers use SLM tools to avoid having to chase network problems that don't affect the business. In addition, historical reports on the network from SLM tools give network managers the ammunition they need to make informed recommendations for network purchases, which also has an impact on ROI, according to SLM users.

    The cost of implementing SLM products varies, with investments beginning at $30,000 and increasing to $100,000 and more, based on the size of the network and the scope of the implementation. At Refco, officials spent between $80,000 and $120,000 on SLM hardware, software and implementation. Tenneco's cost for the Micromuse product was approximately $250,000, which included Micromuse's Object Server with five probes, three gateways (one for Oracle/Remedy/SNMP each) and some reporting tools. The price also included full redundancy.

    Industry analysts recommend companies begin their journey with SLM products with the user community most vocal about application availability and performance, and then scale from there. "Companies can begin with SLM by supporting the most critical set of desktops to the most critical set of servers," says Renaissance Worldwide's Morency.

    So all indications point to SLM becoming a network-management requirement, given the business direction toward business-to-business communications and e-commerce as well as the pressure on IT to ensure application and information delivery across the network.

    "This is the correct direction for network-management tools--ones that help break down the barrier between IT and the community they serve," says Refco's Quinlan.

    Lynn Haber, based in Norwell, Mass., writes about information technology and related issues. She can be reached at lthaber@mediaone.net.

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