Tooling up

Network management tools are as imperative to an organization as its employees, and can increase productivity through refined application management, aid in easing bandwidth congestion and traffic flow but ultimately are devices to save money.

The current batch of network management software has been designed specifically for scalability, robustness and ease of use, making the software relevant for IT managers in both enterprise and SME operations. As many organizations give consideration to using VoIP, network management tools become more entrenched in business functionality and profitability.

Geoff Johnson, vice president of network and telecomms research at Gartner Asia Pacific, said it is one thing to buy the tools, but another to fund the additional staff necessary to keep a permanent team of system managers and the additional benefits of the tools are lost. Unless the company's big enough - like a bank or an airline.

Due to the people costs and logistics involved, most organizations rely on vendors, or a third party, to manage the network.

"A lot of organizations in Australia that would benefit from introducing network management of any degree are simply not big enough to keep a permanent team of network system managers on staff and therefore can only look at a network periodically, because most businesses cannot afford to feed the talent."

"In large enterprises the problem with system management for a CIO is that they may have the tools, but unless people understand how to use them or how to feed the software often enough, you have a problem.

"The largest enterprises need the tools and the smaller enterprises seem to throw bandwidth at the problem, because they do not want to spend the money."

Bandwidth and performance management is a critical issue that effects nearly every business. But the experts are not sold, stating user education into how a network operates and their part in that role would ultimately cut most of the problems current network management tools claim to solve.

Senior Meta analyst Michael Warillow said if you are looking to implement network management tools in your business the last thing you have to do is worry about user education. The ideal scenario is to start again, redesign the network architecture from a bottom-up approach, not to keep a better handle on bandwidth usage, but to make it easier for a business model to introduce VoIP.

"If you have a well-architected solution from the bottom up then you have the built-in groundwork to understand how things are glued together," Warillow said.

"The interesting thing is that are a lot of incumbent tool sets around that are almost a decade old in terms of design and are now showing the need for a rebuild. We are at a point now where organizations need to realise it may be cheaper in the long run to start from scratch rather than shove good money after bad by investing in out-of-date network tools.

Colleague and fellow senior analyst at Meta, Bjarne Munch, said that as organizations start introducing IP telephony it is not good enough to have a set of management tools that just concentrate on the application level. Few organizations are in a position yet to integrate critical end-to-end monitoring, a feature the tools desperately need.

"There is a monitor in a router or switch but you need a way to assure the level of quality an end user is receiving. An alarm may sound to indicate when it hits a congestion level but telephone users demand good line quality and availability, which needs end-to-end monitoring.

Munch added that the trend he is seeing in Australian businesses adopting network management tools is the pressure put on a network by current applications, and business find it too expensive to just buy more bandwidth.

"Some have said they have saved up to 70 percent on bandwidth cost simply by using the right tools and where the traditional way was just to lay some more pipe, bandwidth can now be managed cost effectively."

Peter Owen, Packeteer Australia and New Zealand manager, said enterprises are introducing various levels of network management specifically to reduce overall labour costs and extend the functionality of existing software. They may have had a basic system in place and found the desire for application-aware services the next logical step forward, even without considering IP telephony.

"The tools allow the IT department to make specific judgements on how the network performs in terms of future investment, for SMEs and enterprise," Owen said.

"Managing bandwidth is important to both; enterprises spend millions in operational expenditure on WAN networks, typically largest expense in an IT budget.

"Everyone has adopted broadband as it is cheap but the trick is with ten sites having ADSL connections of 512k, then times that by 10 and you get 2.5meg - it is rare head office has appropriate amount of bandwidth for branch offices."

The entire Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment network was running a fully converged VoIP and video network and estimate an annual saving of between $3 and $4 million on bandwidth after implementing network management software.

Last January the DSE deployed a $7.6 million converged wide area network supporting voice, video and data featuring pure IP videoconferencing and voice over IP at 34 sites.

Andrew Paynter, senior technical manager for the DSE said the department would have needed to double, and possibly triple, bandwidth had the department not implemented a network management system.

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