mgmtA network is a collection of devices that are connected to create a digital communications infrastructure.  These devices include (but are not limited to) switches, routers, wireless access points and controllers, and various appliances for security and authentication. The purpose of a network is to provide data transport services for user devices and applications so that they can easily and transparently interact with each other in order to exchange information and data.

Therefore a network management system (NMS), through the use of various tools and applications is the IT activity that insures optimal configuration, performance, fault (event), security (access), report, and application management across the network infrastructure, servers, and applications. This is done in order to provide the best possible experience for users while connected to the network.

Components of NMS

As mentioned above there are several components that comprise a comprehensive network management solution. The following will provide a brief explanation for each of these:

Configuration management is the process of setting up the network infrastructure to control the behavior of how user devices, data and information will best use and connect to the network.

Performance management is the process of continuously monitoring and analyzing the network characteristics or personality so that these characteristics can be adjusted in order to provide optimal network performance and increased efficiency of the network.

Fault management is a monitoring activity that locates and isolates faults on the network. Ideally the network can notify the management system as, or prior to a fault occurring so that it can be dealt with before a network outage occurs. Fault management consists of the discovery, troubleshooting, and correction of network problems.

Security (access) management is the process of controlling how or what a user device can access via the network and the other information assets connected to the network.

Report (monitoring) management is the ability to collect large amounts of data on the various aspects of the network itself and usage of the network by user devices and applications in order to generate meaningful reports about the network and its usage. These reports can be used for a wide variety of things, such as: compliance, historical trends, user activity, security audits, application usage, and more.

Application management is used to provide granular application visibility and control of applications at layer 7 of the OSI model in order to identify what applications are being used on the network, how they are performing, who is using them, and where they are being used. To be of any real use this would have to include both traditional applications such as SAP, and the ability to perform deep packet inspection (DPI) for Web based applications such as, Facebook, Twitter, etc. This provides a basis to make more intelligent decisions regarding the prioritization of more critical applications over that of non-critical applications.

A few things to look for in a good NMS

There are hundreds of things that should be considered when looking at a network management system. Like anything else when you are looking at a NMS it becomes very important to do your homework; talk with vendors, educate yourself on the topic, possibly solicit the help of industry experts, and then put together a detailed plan outlining the goals, design, usage, and implementation of your NMS. The following will touch on just a few of the areas to consider when looking at a NMS:

  1. The huge growth in mobility and BYOD has also led to a huge growth in WiFi. Today it becomes extremely important that the NMS can support both the wired and WiFi infrastructure from within a single management console. This will maintain consistency between your WiFi and wired network, and eliminate duplication of efforts within IT.  This will also save money through the consolidation of duplicate NMS into one, and by maintaining IT headcount at the same level.
  2. There are many aspects of network management and an unlimited number of management tools out there. There is really no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to network management. Therefore a NMS that has open and published interfaces (or APIs) that easily allows for the integration and interoperability of additional management tools is important.
  3. Many vendors will try to lock you into a single solution with proprietary network management implementations. Make sure that the NMS that you are looking at is based on open standards, such as SNMP so that any device supporting these open standards can also be supported by the NMS.
  4. A good user interface does many things. It should allow you to start at a high level of visualization and allow you to drill down to finer granularity. The interfaces should be intuitive and easy-to-use. You should also be able to create your own customized views.
  5. Configuration templates that can be created once and applied to many will save both time and money.
  6. Automation that allows for activities such as the ability to quarantine users/devices based on defined policies increases efficiency by automating what once were manual tasks.
  7. Automated policies that are not tied to the physical network (VLAN) but follow the user and devices as they roam about the network and that can also dynamically change based on rule sets such as location of the device/user, time of day and who the user or device is.
  8. As the network will evolve over time it is important that the NMS can also scale and grow along with the network.
  9. A good NMS should provide predictive analytics to quickly identify, isolate, and troubleshoot network and user problems. In many cases a good NMS will be able to identify potential problems so that they can be resolved before they really turn into a problem.
  10. The ability to take huge amounts of network analytics and rationalize this into usable reports.
  11. Partner with a company that has the time and experience of implementing networks and NMSs it will really pay off when it comes time to implement the plan.

The art of network management has been around as long as networks have been around. Network management systems, tools and methodologies will continue to evolve as the size and complexity of networks continues to grow.