Too often network management today still depends on huge numbers of tools with different ways to manage or monitor individual devices on the network, a situation that has not changed significantly since the 1980s. Generally, switches, routers and the like have their own sets of tools for monitoring the health of a network, creating a sea of complexity for network managers, often making management a difficult and expensive task.
The concept of a single pane of glass for network management is alluring and in and of itself can deliver ROI by cutting costs. The reality however is that the vendor community needs to go further. The key to 10X increases in value can be found in the application portfolio. Specifically, applications are the link between network infrastructure and business value creation.
By taking an application view, network managers can switch the conversation from cost cutting to business value creation. Supporting this approach increases a vendor's standing within customer organizations and can create lasting strategic relationships that include both tactical problem solving and ongoing value delivery.
Indeed, Wikibon practitioners who identify and rank their company’s critical applications report positive outcomes that directly impact the way in which they design and ultimately monitor, manage, and remediate network infrastructure. A major focus of these customers is on ensuring policy-based quality of service (QoS).
The process taken by these practitioners is to map supporting network elements to key applications and prioritize applications based on business value contribution (business benefit divided by TCO to support the apps). Providing an application view of network management enables customers to focus monitoring and troubleshooting efforts on applications that are delivering the most business value. A key aspect of this approach is to proactively measure and report on time to recover from application outages and even degraded application performance.
Where Should Vendors Focus? Vendors should integrate application monitoring explicitly into tool sets. Specifically, there are five areas the Wikibon community identifies as critical for network management suppliers to deliver, including:
- Reporting that maps application value to network infrastructure. Specifically, cost of downtime and/or degraded performance should be a key performance indicator delivered through customizable dashboards.
- The monitoring of critical IP services should be reported on an application-by-application basis to ensure that key processes supporting applications are available and performing to SLA requirements
- Monitoring should provide anticipatory identification of application performance bottlenecks before users are affected.
- Monitoring should identify application performance issues in real-time or near real-time.
- The network monitoring and management system should provide the assurance (supported through reports) that data integrity exists across various IP services.
Vendors should focus efforts on supporting and monitoring performance and health at the application level for IP services (e.g. Ping, SNMP, HTTP, etc), e-mail services (e.g. Exchange), database services (e.g. SQL Server and Oracle), OS services and other critical infrastructure that support business applications.
By performing some basic research and allocating R&D dollars to provide application views, network management will go from being seen as a roadblock to change to a business value enabler.
Action Item: Efforts by network management vendors to market a single pane of glass as a means of reducing complexity are noble and differentiable. However vendors should endeavor to deliver far more business value than can be realized by consolidating tool sets. Specifically, while such consolidation might reduce the need to add headcount, cut training costs and improve agility, focusing on application-level performance indicators can deliver orders of magnitude more business value and change the perception of network management from cost containment to profit generation. Taking an application view will allow vendors not only to fulfill tactical customer needs but also deliver long-term strategic value to clients.