Chris van Niekerk, country manager of 3Com SA, looks at the top 10 tips for improving network management using the latest in network management advances. The concept of network management has changed and evolved over the years. From a labour-intensive, hands-on experience, technology has created next-generation tools that facilitate the complete automation of the task.
At last, network managers do not have to suffer through the headaches of network management anymore. The next-generation of network management tools offer solutions that turn the management function from a manual, reactive chore to an automated, proactive, value-adding responsibility.
This is a welcome change that is, to a large extent, motivating the elevation of the corporate network manager to a more strategic position within the average organisation.
It is also a significant change, because it is responsible for cost savings and a reduction in the amount of complexity within many companies' network infrastructures.
The following are helpful tips to guide today's network manager toward reaping the rewards of the latest network management innovations. In particular, when a network manager is planning to update the network, these tips should become part of the 'check list' for making the improvements.
1. Identify potential issues before they become problems
Adopt network management tools that offer the ability to identify and correct potential issues before they cause users real problems. New-generation systems allow network managers to set threshold limits on key devices so that they can be alerted automatically when these thresholds are exceeded but before they cause user outages.
Some systems can also automatically spot network mis-configurations or opportunities to optimise performance and highlight these to the network manager.
2. Make 'discovery' of the network a priority
Establish a priority that the network management software needs to 'discover' all the devices on the network to create a 'map'. Building an accurate picture or map of the physical devices and links on your network will make for quicker troubleshooting and problem resolution.
Newer management applications can generate this map automatically and will identify individual device types, as well as detailed link characteristics such as speed, resiliency and redundancy.
Some applications will also highlight any moves, adds and changes to the network. Colour coding also allows network managers to see the status of any device or link at a glance.
3. Consolidate on industry standards
Make sure that all the devices on your network support industry-standard protocols for communicating with each other. Otherwise, if you opt to remain with proprietary packages, you are taking a significant risk that could have costly repercussions down the line.
Proprietary products require you to buy additional products at higher prices. Industry-standard products are more readily available and are at lower prices. The most common standards to support are Ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11b), SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), RMON (Remote Monitoring) and HTTP (standard Web language).
4. Select easier-to-use network management solutions
With all the easier-to-use tools emerging today, there is no excuse for having a complex network to manage. Look for an improved, easy-to-use GUI (graphical user interface) and the use of wizards for easier set-up and use.
For smaller networks, using traditional heavyweight management applications often introduce more complexity than they remove. For some functions, plug-in software can be downloadable from the Internet, often at no cost.
5. Establish clear and concise rules
Improve the use of technology by establishing rules for how the network is to be used. For example, enforce the rule that no 'rogue' servers are allowed to be attached to the network.
New network management tools can identify an unauthorised server faster today than in the past. Moreover, rules should be established for such things as giving higher priority to specific traffic types on the network, such as voice, while lowering (or even blocking) other traffic types such as MP3 music file downloads.
6. Optimise network devices network management
Make sure that all the network devices (such as switches, wireless access points, IP PBX, etc) have the latest version of software in them for optimal use.
Where offered, take advantage of inexpensive service contracts to get new software features that can extend the life of purchased hardware. Plan to use centralised tools to distribute new software to devices, as needed.
7. Plug network security vulnerabilities
Adopt a method of monitoring when users log on and log off and how they do it. With more users logging on a network, especially an increasing number of mobile users, you need to adjust how much you monitor access.
Then you need to identify potential areas of vulnerability on a regular basis and use updated plug-ins from the Web to fill the holes.
8. Take advantage of downloadable management software on the Internet
Implement the updates of reliable, proven network management software from the Web, adding new capabilities that may not be currently available in the network. The enhancements could range from new reporting capabilities to inherent security measures.
9. Intelligent event handling
Use intelligent tools that identify the root cause of a problem on the network. The problem in the past has been that there could be 10 problems, but only one problem - the root cause - needed to be fixed in order to correct everything else automatically. Your network management application should be able to isolate such root causes efficiently.
10. Automate repetitive reporting functions
Automate the routine, repetitive, mundane, administrative task of reporting, such as listing the software versions in products. Most network managers object to the tedious reporting activity, but new reporting capabilities enable you to generate reports automatically and use them with upper management to position yourself well as a strategic planner and analyst.