Manage Your Network by Working Smarter

Keeping your enterprise network operating at maximum efficiency is getting a lot more challenging. To begin with, you have a wider range of systems and technologies—such as wireless networks or video conferencing—you didn’t have to deal with a few years ago. These systems are getting faster and much more complex: Losing a large disc array or fiber optic trunk can be spell disaster in a hurry. And if something does go wrong, the odds of getting a vendor tech support person on the line that is both knowledgeable and understandable are about even with winning the lottery.

So, what do you do? You probably can’t work much harder, as many enterprise managers are already putting in 60-hour weeks. Help is not on the way, as the current economic crunch has put a real crimp on hiring, so getting any additional bodies to assist you is not likely to happen. That means that if we can’t work any harder, we will need to work smarter, and use any and all available tools to help us along the way.

Thus, this begins a series of tutorials—Working Smarter—that will look at the challenges of managing the enterprise, some of the standards and architectures that have been developed over the years to assist with this formidable challenge, and finally review some of the Windows-based solutions various networking vendors have put forth to assist us along the way. Let’s begin with a brief review of network management theory that can be applied to any computer or communications network.

We are all familiar with the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) Reference Model, defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which divided the tasks of computer-to-computer communications into seven well-defined layers. This model is specified in ISO 7498-1, with the first edition published in 1984, and revised in 1994. An accompanying (and perhaps much less well-read) part of that standard defines a Management Framework for computer networks, and is specified in ISO 7498-4.

Much like the OSI Model divides a complex computer communications task into seven distinct elements, this Framework places the processes of network management into five Specific Management Functional Areas. Let’s look at these areas individually, and in doing so, apply them to the management of enterprise networks.

Fault Management

The standard says that fault management “encompasses fault detection, isolation and correction of abnormal operation of the OSI environment.” The operative word here is abnormal. But in order to determine what is not normal, you better have a good handle on what is normal, so that when your network management system flags a problem on your network, such as an unusually high CPU usage or disk utilization, you are better prepared to react.

Accounting Management

The standard states “accounting management enables charges to be established for the use of resources in the OSI environment, and for costs to be identified for the user of those resources.” Given the current political era of personal responsibility, do you have a means to allocate the costs of your enterprise to those using those resources? If those network users actually have to pay for what they consumed, is it possible they might consume less, thus driving down your networking costs?

Configuration Management

The standard says “configuration management identifies, exercises control over, collects data from and provides data to open systems for the purpose of preparing for, initializing, starting, providing for the continuous operation of, and terminating interconnection services.” Most enterprise managers are all too familiar with the term MAC, which stands for Moves, Adds and Changes. Do you have a way of keeping track of all these changes?

Performance Management

The standard states “performance management enables the behavior of resources in the OSI environment and the effectiveness of communication activities to be evaluated.” The key word here is effectiveness—are the systems that you have put in place performing as well as they should? What about service level agreements? Can you effectively challenge your carrier if you perceive that their service is sub-par?

Security Management

The standard says “the purpose of security management is to support the application of security policies by means of functions which include the creation, deletion and control of security services and mechanisms; the distribution of security-relevant information; and the reporting of security-relevant events.” Quite a mouthful here, but it might boil down to a easier question: How hacker-proof is your network? Have you assured a reasonable level of security without placing unnecessary burdens on your end users?

One parting question: have you given some thought to each of the above network management areas? If you are like most enterprise managers, you may be strong in a couple of areas, acceptable in one or two more, and weak in the rest. So that brings us to your homework assignment: evaluate how your enterprise network would rate in each of these areas, and make a mental note to look for network management systems and tools that can help fill in those gaps.

Our next tutorial will look at some of the classic architectures that have been developed over the years to address these five key network management functions.

Copyright Acknowledgement: ©2009 DigiNet Corporation, All Rights Reserved

Author’s Biography

Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet Corporation, a Denver-based consulting engineering firm. He is the author of many books on networking technologies, including Voice over IP Technologies, and Internet Technologies Handbook, both published by John Wiley & Sons.

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