The current state of network management is a collection of tools for each component in the network, and heterogeneous methods to monitor and manage those components. Every device has its own set of tools for network monitoring and management, making network administration a cumbersome and time consuming task. Root cause analysis and network planning are especially challenging in this environment. Network management costs are not linear and tend to increase at a faster rate than the network size increases.
Network management nirvana is the so-called "single pane of glass" where:-
- All of the network topology can be discovered and mapped automatically with the minimum of agents;
- Role-based authorization pushes responsibility down to the right people;
- Consolidated alerts provide a view of what is happening across the network rather than a fragmented set of snapshots at individual switches, and automated responses are used when appropriate to respond instantly to specific events;
- A common database collects all historical data and network change information;
- Analysis tools work seamlessly across all components of the network;
- Mobile devices are fully supported;
- Security and compliance objectives are supported across the whole network;
- What-if planning of changes to the network can be done against the data and against different future scenarios.
The key to working towards this single-pane-of-glass nirvana for a complete installation (we are not there yet!) is committing the organization to a common set of network reporting standards. SNMP has improved over time to include the ability to monitor and manage all of a network with the exception of storage, VMware virtualized networks, and some older equipment.
Committing to the latest SNMP standards and to vendors who support them fully now and in the future will allow CIOs to make significant reductions in network costs and network administrative costs while improving the quality of network service and the ability to work with other parts of IT on complex problem resolution. This would allow CIOs to make significant reductions in network CAPEX, network administration costs, improve quality of service, and reduce the security risks for the network.
VMware is plotting its own path in network management. Most IT infrastructure environments will be a mixture of virtualized and bare metal for some time to come, with the most demand systems outside the virtualization walls. Network management needs to encompass the whole network. There are APIs in VMware that allow some network data to flow out to SNMP-based management tools. However, the lack of SNMP reporting by VMware breaks the single-pane-of-glass concept and complicates overall network management. The predominance of VMware means that this will have to be managed around, although as other virtualization platforms mature and if they offer true SNMP support, there may be a case for moving work sensitive to network management to these platforms.
Many network management tools do provide full-function good SNMP support, including (but not a full list) the following:-
- WhatsUp Gold from Ipswitch (the subject of a recent Wikibon Peer Incite);
- Orion from SolarWinds;
- OpManager vs from Advent;
- SMNPC from CastleRock.
The weak points for most of the tools are integration with VMware and support for mobile. The roadmap for implementation of these requirements should be explored in depth.
Action Item: In order to minimize the cost of network equipment and network management and provide higher levels of service and security, CIOs should set a standard that all networking equipment (excluding storage) should support the latest levels of SNMP and that network management tools that support SNMP fully should be deployed. CIOs should be satisfied that the SNMP-based tool integrates with VMware, Hyper-V, and other virtualization platforms as well as possible and will support the future requirements for mobile within the organization.