IT organizations are under constant pressure to keep up with the growth and changing requirements of the lines-of-business. Similar to other infrastructure silos, in networking this has led to a heterogeneous mix of switches, routers, and other various types of gear that staff must manage and support. While customers may be considering emerging options for designing next-generation “fabric” architectures, in the mid-markets most customers mostly want to deploy new gear faster and simplify overall management. Virtualization has a ripple effect on networking by requiring even more flexibility and mobility than traditional server infrastructure. The bottom line is that IT staffs require tools that can manage infrastructure with the minimum amount of effort.
While the Wikibon community came to the conclusion in a Peer Incite Research Meeting that the industry still has work to do to create that single pane-of-glass to manage the entire IT infrastructure, moving to a single tool set for network management such as the example that Rene Delbe, Systems Engineer at Infinigate, a German-based distributor of Ipswitch’s WhatsUpGold (WUG), discussed, delivers progress towards the ultimate goal.
Consolidation of Tools
When it comes to installing, monitoring and managing changes in a network, an administrator can end up with a tool for every family of switch, router, and end device in the data center with some spreadsheets and network diagrams to help consolidate information manually. While enterprise accounts will consider investing in orchestration tools, Rene said that the mid-market customers often turn to open source software to try and consolidate on a single tool.
Rene goes on-site with his resellers on a weekly basis to support WhatsUpGold, and he says that they can deploy 30-3500 device configurations in 1-2 days, which he expects would take months to deploy with open source alternatives. WhatsUpGold utilizes SNMP to collect, monitor and manage the various pieces of the datacenter. SNMP solutions allow agent-less management of an environment, and for most business-grade devices, this means that no additional setup is required (Windows administrators will need to enable the management IP ports).
While there may be cases where a device-specific management tool or agent-based solution has deeper functionality, Rene stated that SNMP provides the functionality that his customers require. While Rene did not quote any specific ROI numbers for the solution that he installs, it is his experience that the deployment of WUG can allow the network team to manage environments with a reduced headcount.
While server virtualization adds a layer of abstraction between the hardware and operating systems, the stability of the physical infrastructure becomes even more critical, as an outage will affect more users. Monitoring tools have the ability to track everything from the basic environmentals of power and temperature of the physical environment to the status of the advanced virtualization mobility activity of VMware vMotion and similar tools. While hypervisor-based management tools such as VMware vCenter and Microsoft SCVMM are increasingly becoming the center of activity for server virtualization administrators, APIs also allow external management tools to manage into the virtual environment.
Rene discussed a WUG plug-in module for supporting VMware environments that integrates with VMware APIs and vCenter, but runs from a separate machine, just like standard WUG. It is worth noting that VMware’s native virtual switching (vSwitch) is not managed by SNMP, but that WUG can monitor the physical infrastructure and have visibility into the VMs. SNMP was designed for physical devices with fixed resources, which does not fit with the virtual model; this is why API integration is needed. See Server virtualisation management complications for more on this topic.
Deploying a network management toolset requires coordination beyond the network team. Rene says that a typical planning session should include server, Windows, VMware, and database (WUG uses SQL) administrators. Users should be encouraged to leverage services from resellers to implement the management software as there will be a mix of automated discovery devices that require enabling monitoring and additional considerations such as using APIs as discussed in the virtualization section above.
Rolling out a solution is a good time to inventory equipment and confirm notification/escalation paths. Tools can often be set with scripts to act according to certain scenarios and alerts can be sent via various communication methods.
Justification of Network Management
In general, network management is justified by helping prevent or reduce the time-to-resolution of a network outage. A complex network with multiple points of management will require time to determine the source of the issue through the various alerts and rippling impacted devices. The ROI of a good tool can also be determined through both the initial time to deploy and saved man-hours from moving to a central management console.
Action Item: IT organizations are constant pressure to extract greater utility out of infrastructure while managing the growing environment with fewer resources. Having a well-documented environment that can be monitored and controlled from a centralized tool (both at a Web console and increasingly via mobile access) is a key step towards allowing IT staffs to provide more strategic support to development and application requirements rather than fighting to keep the lights on. The management ecosystem is still highly fragmented and users should look to leverage services along with software to properly deploy efficient management.