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Managing Todays Complex Networks

managNetwork management is the continuous process of monitoring a network to detect and diagnose problems, and of configuring protocols and mechanisms to fix problems and optimize performance. Unfortunately, today’s network architectures were not designed with these tasks as a main priority. As a result, managing data networks is, at best, a black art practiced by an increasingly overwhelmed community of network operators. We observe that the design of protocols, control mechanisms, and monitoring systems in- duces the problems that network operators must solve. Rather than just retrofitting network management on the existing infrastructure, we advocate designing network architectures with management in mind in the first place. The key idea is to design protocols and architectures to induce network- management problems that are easy to solve.

Networks need to be managed, thus should be designed for the ease of management in the first place. Ultimately, the design of manageable networks raises important architectural questions about the appropriate division of functionalities between network elements and the systems that manage them.

Optimization produces outputs from network management by setting the tunable parameters that control network be- havior. Solving an optimization problem involves minimizing an objective function subject to a set of constraints. Many optimization problems that arise in data networks are compu- tationally intractable or even have many local minima that are significantly suboptimal.

Network management is an essential factor in successfully operating a network. As businesses become increasingly dependent on networking services, keeping those services running becomes synonymous with keeping the business running.

Properly performed, network management ensures that services provided over a network are turned up swiftly and keep running smoothly. In addition, network management helps to keep networking cost and operational cost under control. It ensures that networking equipment is used effectively and deployed where it is needed the most. It increases the availability and quality of the services that the network provides. At least in the case of service providers, it is also a significant factor in the generation of revenue from networking services. On the other hand, ineffective management can lead to deterioration and disruption of networking services, poor utilization of investment made in the network, and lost business. Network management is hence key to getting the most value out of a network and can be absolutely business critical.

Despite its significance, network management is without much doubt one of the lesser understood topics in the otherwise well-charted world of networking. Reasons for this include the fact that network management looks deceptively simple, whereas it can be difficult to master, and that it is overshadowed by the networking technology itself that it is supposed to manage.

In some ways, managing a network is like throwing a party: Most people enjoy going to a party (read: the services provided by the network) but do not want to deal with the hassle of setting it up, keeping everything flowing smoothly, and cleaning up the mess afterward (read: network management). Yet this is essential to the party’s success (and ensuring that there will be another one). As with network management, many technical disciplines are involved: Food needs to be cooked, rooms decorated, invitations printed, and electrical equipment and lighting set up. And as with network management, organizational and business questions abound: Do I throw it at my home, or do I lease a location? Where will I put the coats? How many drinks do I need? Can I do it all by myself, or at what point does it make sense to use a caterer?


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