When it comes to managing infrastructure, administrators are looking for Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to live up to its name. SNMP was defined by the IETF to be the standard for monitoring IP devices. While SNMP has been around since the late 1980s and most devices have SNMP support, there are many considerations ranging from device discovery through scripting for custom functionality. For those that are unfamiliar with implementing SNMP, take a look at this introduction article by Matt Simmons; it’s especially illuminating to read about some of the inconsistent support between versions of SNMP.
One of the biggest advantages with using solutions based on SNMP is that agents (which can be obtrusive and must be kept up to date) are not required. Most devices that support SNMP can be discovered automatically pinging or by using TCP requests. Some devices (such as Windows servers) will require enabling responding to SNMP requests. As discussed in the summary of the recent Peer Incite on network management, VMware environments are discovered and managed via an API rather than SNMP. Management tools can pull together SNMP and other agent-less methods of monitoring and controlling devices.
SNMP allows for vendor-neutral management, but that does not mean that all vendor equipment is supported equally. Some vendors do not fully adhere to the SNMP versions (which are documented in IETF RFCs). There are conflicting specifications in different versions, which can be confusing and frustrating to sort out.
Once devices are discovered, SNMP functionality includes acting on the MIB (management information base, which is the structure of managing the device) including Gets (retrieving information), Sets (changing something on the device) and Traps (a notification that can be set based on certain criteria). Network management software can support automation to enhance SNMP, replacing scripts that customers would have either written themselves or paid professional services to create in the past.
Action Item: While SNMP solutions do have gaps and inconsistencies, it is still the most broadly supported vendor-neutral option for network management. Users should leverage vendor documentation and knowledgeable partners to help successfully install network management.
Footnotes: See NetworkManagementSoftware.com for more on this space