Opportunities Abound in Transitioning Network Management Marketplace

By Dennis Drogseth

(Back to article)

Last month I wrote about how the network management marketplace is deconstructing and reconstructing itself along new lines by extending discovery to support more than the network, or, for example, supporting both inventory and root-cause analysis, or extending correlation capabilities to support systems and application analysis.

More EMA Articles on CIO Update

The Pros and Cons of Virtual Appliances

Riding the CMDB Tidal Wave, Part One: Understanding

Riding the CMDB Tidal Wave, Part Two

Why IT Management is at a Tipping Point

If you want to comment on these or any other articles you see on CIO Update, we'd like to hear from you in our IT Management Forum. Thanks for reading.

- Allen Bernard, Managing Editor.

FREE IT Management Newsletters

I’m going to revisit some of this technological re-alignment later in this column, but I’d like to begin with an even larger thought: integrating the network operations center (NOC) into a broader operations and ultimately business service vision.

Now, to be clear, I realize this suggests one of two things: either viewing network operations as an organization used to evangelize and bring IT processes into the mainstream; and/or leveraging the existing capabilities in some NOCs to manage across network/system/application interdependencies to integrate other more siloed IT organizations from the data center.

For instance, while ITIL best practices typically don’t begin with the NOC, but more often with the service desk and then the data center. In fact, the trend can sometimes be the reverse. I would say that while in most organizations the NOC is the last group on board with configuration management database (CMDB) system implementations, in probably 25% of the cases I’ve worked with it’s the first group to implement an early phase CMDB; typically oriented at service impact management. And I’ve often heard NOC directors complain about the lack of network support for many CMDB system offerings today—proving that the NOC is ahead not behind market.

The reasons for this somewhat schizophrenic role vis-à-vis more holistic management shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. On the one hand, the NOC, and network engineers in particular, are famous for being stubborn, independent and “misunderstood”. By image, at least, they are on the high end of fitting in with being classically non-communicative “Dilberts.”

On the other hand, many network operations organizations are already established in managing across interdependencies so that problems can be diagnosed across the network, or isolated to the application, or the server, or the database. In accordance with this, many good network management solutions are capable of identifying application design issues, such as chatty applications, or informing on server performance.

As a result, in many IT organizations, it’s the network team, particularly the network engineers, who are best prepared to coordinate troubleshooting across silos, or plan for overarching requirements in infrastructure optimization, or manage remote locations including systems and application access/ responsiveness.

The Vendors & The Marketplace

Recent data shows that an astonishing 51% of purchases involving network change and configuration management solutions were made in conjunction with a CMDB initiative. Standalone management purchases came in a distant second at about 16%. Purchases made in conjunction with systems management configuration and other software came in next at 13%, beating out purchases of network device hardware needing configuration tools at 12%.

This data is radically different from what we would have seen five or even three years ago. It’s one indicator that planning network management strategies is becoming a much more holistic endeavor. Another striking data point is that 64% of our respondents from Q4 2006 indicated that their organization had done, or was about to make, some organizational change to facilitate better collaboration between the NOC and the data center.

So, investing in management solutions is no longer just about buying siloed tools to manage just the network. And much of the push and shove in the network management market is consciously or not driven by this very fact. Vendors selling network management solutions know they have to change their business model to support a broader set of roles; from engineering to operations to service assurance across all domains.Given that, and getting back to technology, I’d like to wrap up with EMA’s recommendations for assessing the value of management investments for what we call “next generation service assurance.” These requirements were evolved to address cross-domain requirements that impact all of IT operations, but it turns out that every one of them are relevant to making investments on the network management front.

They include:

  • Discovery that supports not only network, but (ideally) systems and application dependencies for performance management and asset and inventory.
  • Analytic capabilities that can triage across network, systems, and application issues.
  • Leveraging modeling technology to capture relationships to drive more focused approaches to automating diagnostics, or even reconfiguring devices.
  • Using application flow and route analytics in monitoring application services themselves.
  • Integrated support for configuration so that when changes are made to the infrastructure or its services, performance management capabilities are proactively aware of anything that’s non-policy compliant.
  • Support for Web Services and SOA application componentry across a distributed networked environment.
  • Integration between fault and performance management.
  • Integration between network and security management (a No.1 priority in many shops).
  • Active control to change network configurations, or optimize bandwidth, or in some cases actually do dynamic server rebalancing in conjunction with network performance.
  • Support for lifecycle management so that understanding, for instance, an application’s robustness in a highly distributed networked environment prior to deployment can help to ensure that promised SLAs are actually deliverable.
  • These are, admittedly, only some pointers targeted at evaluating solutions specifically in support of service assurance. Other disciplines such as capacity planning, asset management and financial planning, and configuration management in and of itself have their own lists of design attributes. But this list, in combination with a good plan for evolving organization and process, can serve as a good departure point for planning strategic service management technology adoption.

    These capabilities not only answer technical needs, but they reinforce and enable the kind of cultural and process change that many IT organizations are just beginning to make, often with strikingly positive results.

    Dennis Drogseth is vice president of Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates, an industry research firm focused on IT management. Dennis can reached at ddrogseth@enterprisemanagement.com.