Remote Net Management Works for NatSource


Demands for remote network management services aren’t going away,
despite the stagnant economy. Many companies, including
Manhattan-based energy trader NatSource, still find outsourcing a more
workable alternative than in-house management of vendor-supplied
software.


“Off-site management is like a breath of fresh air,” says Tim Mallon,
director of IT at NatSource. NatSource started outsourcing remote
monitoring and management services to DataVox about six months ago,
after three years of trying to use HP OpenView on-site.


Mallon attributes the decision mostly to problems with change
management. “When HP OpenView was first installed here, it did a good
job,” he remembers.


“But then, when we needed to make configuration changes to the
network, it was extremely difficult to get support from HP. OpenView
ended up sitting on the shelf, gathering dust,” according to Mallon.


NatSource’s switched ethernet network encompasses 12 servers at five
sites in the US, along with about 20 routers and switches. Most of the
servers are from Dell, but a few are from Compaq. “We have mainly
switched 100 Mbps connections, with a few gigabit links,” Mallon says.


Mallon oversees NatSources’ LAN (local area network) management
professional and two other full-time IT staffers, in addition to some
IT consultants.


According to Mallon, the IT team at NatSource began running into
troubles with OpenView, HP’s SNMP management package, whenever they
tried to add new devices to the network, or to make changes to
configuration settings such as surveillance.


“The devices weren’t able to get reports back to us over the
network. This happened with routers and switches, as well as with
servers,” Mallon says.


Because NatSource held an HP maintenance contract, the trading firms’
IT crew hit the phone lines. “It was very hard, though, to get anyone
at HP on the phone. First, they questioned whether we were maintenance
customers. Then, even after they were assured we had a maintenance
contract, we still had problems,” Mallon says.


“It got embarrassing. HP kept us hanging on the phone for two
hours. Thank God for speaker phones. The LAN manager would be on music
hold. I’d ask him, ‘What are you doing?’ He’d reply, ‘Waiting for HP.’
When we finally got someone on the phone, they’d tell us, ‘We’re not
qualified to answer that question. We’ll have to get somebody to call
you back.’ Then we’d get a callback from HP maybe a week later — if
we even got called back at all,” Mallon charges.


DataVox came to the rescue with DNA NetSensor, a VPN (virtual private
network)-based 24/7 remote network monitoring and management
service. NetSensor gives on-site staff the option to be alerted to
problems on the network through a choice of phone, pager, or e-mail,
for instance. Customers can also check out statistics like up/down
status of network nodes, IP/SNMP traffic activity, historical
performance, and utilization data over the Web.


DataVox isn’t limited to traditional LAN/WAN management, according to
DataVox President Norbert Sluzewski. For users interested in
out-of-the-ordinary services, the company can provide remote
monitoring of environmental data such as temperature of the data
center and physical security factors. Other offerings include Web and
application hosting, service-level management, disaster recovery, and
cable network design. “We also provide strategic benefit reports, with
consulting types of recommendations,” he contends.


NatSource is hardly alone in turning to outsourced management,
according to analysts. IDC currently projected the IT services market
to soar from $350 billion in 2000 to $700 billion in 2005, yielding a
compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12%. IDC pinpoints network
infrastructure management as one of the fastest-growing service areas,
along with application outsourcing and network consulting/integration.


“When it comes to buying enterprise systems software or outsourcing
remote network management, I don’t think it’s an either/or type of
thing. It all depends on what’s best in a particular situation. When
remote management services do make sense, they make all the sense in
the world,” notes Valerie O’Connell, managing director, enterprise
systems management, at the Aberdeen Group,


According to Mallon, NatSource saw satisfaction right away. “The very
first day we used it, NetSensor DNA detected that a Cisco main catalog
switch card was down. DataVox came by to replace the card the next
morning,” he says.


Along the way, NetSensor has produced a few false alarms for
NatSource. “But we’ve only been using the service for about six
months, and I’m sure we’ll work those things through,” Mallon adds.


In another recent analyst report, Gartner urges companies to consider
factors beyond price when thinking about external service providers.


Pricing for NetSensor DNA ranges from about $500 per month for small
offices with up to 10 nodes, to approximately $5,000 per month for
large enterprises with more than 100 nodes and multiple sites.


“I think NetSensor is reasonably priced,” Mallon says. “It’s a turnkey
solution. You can do the network monitoring yourself instead — but do
you want the headaches?”


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Jacqueline Emigh

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