The next wave in network management

Service-level management products should align network management to business requirements.

 By Lynn Haber
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The next wave in network management

Service-level management products should align network management to business requirements.

By Lynn Haber

Since Children's Hospital in Boston has long been considered one of the most prestigious facilities for children's healthcare in the nation, officials there have come to understand the need to identify tools to solve specific problems. And that goes for its IT officials as well.


The company:
Based in Boston, Children's Hospital is the largest pediatric medical center in the United States and is Harvard Medical School's primary pediatric teaching hospital. The hospital records approximately 18,000 inpatient admissions each year.

The problem:
To become more proactive in management and capacity planning for the network, which supports approximately 3,200 users and all hospital departments--including clinical and administrative--across a 35-mile radius.

The solution:
Using the Street Savvy Software, or S3 products, from NextPoint Networks, of Westford, Mass., as the baseline tool set to measure a variety of network metrics and better understand how the network is running.

The IT infrastructure:
The network infrastructure at Children's Hospital includes 4,500 IP devices that operate in a flat, switched, layer 2 environment. The facility runs 10/100 Ethernet to the desktops and has a switched FDDI backbone.

So when Jim Hutchinson, the manager of integrated communication and networking, needed help better managing the various aspects of the hospital's network last fall, he became an early adopter of service-level management (SLM) software. SLM broadens the definition of network management, as it's commonly known, from monitoring the network to monitoring the applications that run across the network.

"My philosophy about network management is to look for tools that solve specific problems without going with an enterprise network-management platform," says Hutchinson.

While still in its infancy, SLM may well represent the next wave in network management. Its purpose is to align network management with business requirements. So, rather than manage servers, hubs, routers, and switches, network administrators can monitor network performance, availability, and reliability as they affect the availability of critical end-user applications.

The need for monitoring application response time isn't new, and at some level, SLM tools aren't new either. In fact, today's SLM tools--while not identical--recall products that existed in the systems network architecture (SNA) world. In the past year or two, the introduction of and emphasis on SLM tools is new, only in so far as the tools have become available for distributed applications. These applications--in particular, e-commerce, intranet, extranets, supply-chain automation, and e-mail-are bombarding corporate networks. And the critical nature of these distributed applications has raised the stakes for network performance and accountability. At the same time, network infrastructure costs are rising and network managers are continually asked to justify the increased expenditures.

A new perception

Perhaps it's best to view SLM as a change in mind-set along the lines of customer service, where the network exists to provide a service for the business. "SLM is not so much about looking at the network as it is [about] looking at the business," says Elizabeth Rainge, a research manager at International Data Corp. (IDC), of Framingham, Mass.

In a 1998 joint study on SLM by Renaissance Worldwide Inc., of Newton, Mass., and McConnell Consulting Inc., of Boulder, Colo., industry researchers found that SLM implementations are in the visionary-early adopter phase and that IT departments are currently focusing on network availability management.

The study looks at 37 businesses responsible for managing more than 370,000 networked desktops in various vertical-market segments, and reveals four drivers that play a major role in shaping an organization's implementation plans. The most significant driver for SLM is increased network availability, chosen by 70% of the respondents. Network availability, according to John Morency, vice president of the IT consulting business at Renaissance Worldwide, is the critical state-of-the-art metric used for most users' organizations. The other most significant drivers are decreasing operational costs, supporting new network services, and requests from business units, selected by 52%, 48%, and 48%, respectively. (See chart, "What's driving people to use SLM?").

This article was originally published on Apr 1, 1999
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