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. 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.

What’s happening?

There’s a popular saying in networking circles that you can’t manage what you can’t see. A good starting point for network management, then, is visibility. What is going on in the wires of your wired network? Who is using the network, and when? What kinds of resources are they using? Are your wireless access points providing adequate coverage for wireless network access? Are there any trouble spots in your network?

Make sure your management software is able to interpret the data (generated in dry, complicated form) coming from the switch and display it in graphical form, so you can see what is happening in your network. Ideally, you should be able to push a button and view a pie chart or other visual snapshot of your network’s activity and overall performance, for both wired and wireless networks. This “map” will also simplify the deployment and configuration of your network devices.

In addition, good graphical information enables more effective troubleshooting of your network’s operations. It will be easier to make whatever changes are needed to improve less-than-optimal aspects of your network’s performance – and often to catch problems before they arise.

Is it safe?

A secure network is vital to an organization of any size. As an SMB, you need simple and effective ways to make sure no unauthorized people or devices can gain access to your network, and that your network remains free of viruses, worms, and other malware. In simple terms, your network should be “waterproof” from a security standpoint.

Along with graphical tools for visibility, your switches should also have built-in security features. Look for access control features, simple firewalls, and other technologies for repelling attacks and intruders from outside your network. You should be able to audit who and what is gaining access to your network and know that defences are in place to keep your networked data, resources, and applications safe.

HP is exhibiting at 360�IT, the IT Infrastructure Event held 22nd – 23rd September 2010, at Earl’s Court, London. The event provides an essential road map of technologies for the management and development of a flexible, secure and dynamic IT infrastructure. For further information please visit www.360itevent.com

About HP

HP creates new possibilities for technology to have a meaningful impact on people, businesses and society. The world’s largest technology company, HP brings together a portfolio that spans printing, personal computing, software, services and IT infrastructure to solve customer problems. More information about HP (NYSE: HPQ) is available at http://www.hp.com.

More information about HP Networking is available at http://h17007.www1.hp.com/us/en/index.aspx

(1) “Fast” Ethernet refers to the 100Base-T Ethernet technology. “Gigabit” Ethernet is refers to 1000Base Ethernet.

2) For as long as a product is owned, with next-business-day advanced response and best effort replacement. The following hardware products and their related series modules have a one-year hardware warranty with extensions available:HP Networking Routing Switch 9300m series,HP Networking Switch 8100fl series,HP Networking Network Access Controller 800, and HP Networking DCM Controller. The following hardware mobility products have a one-year hardware warranty with extensions available: HP Networking M111 Client Bridge, HP Networking MSM3xx-R Access Points, HP Networking MSM7xx Mobility and Access Controllers, HP Networking RF Manager IDS/IPS Systems, HP Networking MSM Power Supplies, HP Networking 1 Port Power Injector, and HP Networking CNMS Appliances. Disk drives in the HP Networking ONE Services zl modules have a five-year hardware warranty. Standalone software, upgrades or licenses may have different warranty duration. For details, refer to the Networking Software License, Warranty and Support booklet at http://h10144.www1.hp.com/customercare/support/warranty/index.htm.

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