Demands for remote network management services aren't going away, despite the stagnant economy. Many companies, including Manhattan-based energy trader NatSource, still find outsourcing a more workable alternative than in-house management of vendor-supplied software.
"Off-site management is like a breath of fresh air," says Tim Mallon, director of IT at NatSource. NatSource started outsourcing remote monitoring and management services to DataVox about six months ago, after three years of trying to use HP OpenView on-site.
Mallon attributes the decision mostly to problems with change management. "When HP OpenView was first installed here, it did a good job," he remembers.
"But then, when we needed to make configuration changes to the network, it was extremely difficult to get support from HP. OpenView ended up sitting on the shelf, gathering dust," according to Mallon.
NatSource's switched ethernet network encompasses 12 servers at five sites in the US, along with about 20 routers and switches. Most of the servers are from Dell, but a few are from Compaq. "We have mainly switched 100 Mbps connections, with a few gigabit links," Mallon says.
Mallon oversees NatSources' LAN (local area network) management professional and two other full-time IT staffers, in addition to some IT consultants.
According to Mallon, the IT team at NatSource began running into troubles with OpenView, HP's SNMP management package, whenever they tried to add new devices to the network, or to make changes to configuration settings such as surveillance.
"The devices weren't able to get reports back to us over the network. This happened with routers and switches, as well as with servers," Mallon says.
Because NatSource held an HP maintenance contract, the trading firms' IT crew hit the phone lines. "It was very hard, though, to get anyone at HP on the phone. First, they questioned whether we were maintenance customers. Then, even after they were assured we had a maintenance contract, we still had problems," Mallon says.
"It got embarrassing. HP kept us hanging on the phone for two hours. Thank God for speaker phones. The LAN manager would be on music hold. I'd ask him, 'What are you doing?' He'd reply, 'Waiting for HP.' When we finally got someone on the phone, they'd tell us, 'We're not qualified to answer that question. We'll have to get somebody to call you back.' Then we'd get a callback from HP maybe a week later -- if we even got called back at all," Mallon charges.
DataVox came to the rescue with DNA NetSensor, a VPN (virtual private network)-based 24/7 remote network monitoring and management service. NetSensor gives on-site staff the option to be alerted to problems on the network through a choice of phone, pager, or e-mail, for instance. Customers can also check out statistics like up/down status of network nodes, IP/SNMP traffic activity, historical performance, and utilization data over the Web.
DataVox isn't limited to traditional LAN/WAN management, according to DataVox President Norbert Sluzewski. For users interested in out-of-the-ordinary services, the company can provide remote monitoring of environmental data such as temperature of the data center and physical security factors. Other offerings include Web and application hosting, service-level management, disaster recovery, and cable network design. "We also provide strategic benefit reports, with consulting types of recommendations," he contends.
NatSource is hardly alone in turning to outsourced management, according to analysts. IDC currently projected the IT services market to soar from $350 billion in 2000 to $700 billion in 2005, yielding a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12%. IDC pinpoints network infrastructure management as one of the fastest-growing service areas, along with application outsourcing and network consulting/integration.
"When it comes to buying enterprise systems software or outsourcing remote network management, I don't think it's an either/or type of thing. It all depends on what's best in a particular situation. When remote management services do make sense, they make all the sense in the world," notes Valerie O'Connell, managing director, enterprise systems management, at the Aberdeen Group,
According to Mallon, NatSource saw satisfaction right away. "The very first day we used it, NetSensor DNA detected that a Cisco main catalog switch card was down. DataVox came by to replace the card the next morning," he says.
Along the way, NetSensor has produced a few false alarms for NatSource. "But we've only been using the service for about six months, and I'm sure we'll work those things through," Mallon adds.
In another recent analyst report, Gartner urges companies to consider factors beyond price when thinking about external service providers.
Pricing for NetSensor DNA ranges from about $500 per month for small offices with up to 10 nodes, to approximately $5,000 per month for large enterprises with more than 100 nodes and multiple sites.
"I think NetSensor is reasonably priced," Mallon says. "It's a turnkey solution. You can do the network monitoring yourself instead -- but do you want the headaches?"