When you're determining your NMS needs, steer between over-complex projects that rely on a heavy dollop of DIY scripting and over-priced systems that can't live up to their promises (or expense).
You could perhaps attempt to boil an egg with a match or a nuclear reactor. Either way you have the wrong size implement for the job. The same thing can happen in network management. Administrators are told that all sorts of tools are the solution to all their problems. Sometimes this is freeware and at other times it is a heavy-duty suite. In both cases, the same error can be made as with boiling an egg: wrong sizing.
A legion of users, for example, have been attracted to free tools such as Nagios, which has had millions of downloads over the years. Such tools are fine for individuals and small networks, as are many other freeware tools. But they do have their limits, such as challenges in scaling.
"Nagios requires customization through scripting language out-of-the-box," said Matt Bolton, deputy vice president of product management of Quest's network management business. "Other free and open source tools reach their limit when the original implementer leaves, because the person replacing him/her can't easily understand the scripting that was created."
At the other end of the spectrum, high-end tools like HP OverView and IBM Tivoli can come with a six-figure price tag. For network-intensive operations, this is exactly what is needed. But for others, it can be overkill.
"It's rare that an end user would need the complete feature set of solutions that OpenView or Tivoli offers," said Bolton.
He gives the example of auto remediation as one of those things that people pay for but don't use in production.
"The vision of auto remediation makes a lot of sense but it's a feature that never really works no matter what vendor is offering it," said Bolton.
He thinks the problem with larger installations, though, is not individual features. It's the fact that you have to buy the whole suite whether you need all the bells and whistles or not.
"It would be like forcing people to buy a cell phone with unlimited minutes, premium video, international calling, etc.," said Bolton.
Bolton gives the example of a user that bought one of the higher-end packages. The person responsible for the purchase left before it had even been taken out of the box. His replacement felt it was too complicated and would cost even more money to implement, and purchased a smaller and less expensive toolset that was more suited to organizational needs.
"What you really should pay for are end-to-end diagnostics, proactive prevention of failures (due to traffic, device failure or configuration errors) and easy integration with other toolset," said Bolton.
In addition, he calls attention to the following points to pay attention to when attempting to right size a network management application:
- Operation and deployment costs. These can affect how rapidly the IT department gets a return on its investment (ROI).
- Automated processes. Increased efficiency and lower risk of human error are key to keeping a network running smoothly.
- Mean time to repair (MTR). Consider systems that help shorten MTR and help get a network up and running after a problem has occurred.
- Simple integration. Seamless integration into complex network management frameworks will decrease deployment costs, resources and time.
- More than monitoring. Look for network management systems that help predict problems, and have remote capabilities.
- Policies. Using a system that helps IT managers enforce best IT practices and compliance policies makes life easier for maintenance and management of the network.
- Centralized dashboard. Switching between different tools and software can be tedious and time consuming. Choose a product that has a web-accessible comprehensive platform, with automated configuration and a centralized dashboard from which you can monitor and manage the network.
Bolton emphasizes that the products from the big boys do a lot of things well and are right for some organizations. However, he challenges the network management industry as a whole to address ease-of-use and ease of deployment.
"Those two things resonate with all buyers as it is important for scaling up or down," he said. "Scaling is location, people, services and applications and few vendors make solutions simple enough to handle changes in all those areas."
This is particularly important in light of emerging trends. Bolton talks about the proliferation of new applications, communications devices and network users.
"Social networking applications are being implemented to support business goals, and communication devices like iPads and iPhones are increasingly being accepted more by IT departments," said Bolton.
This, he said, is going to place even more stress on already overloaded network administrators.