NETWORK MANAGEMENT platforms sometimes remind you of a cheap suit. No matter where you get them, they’re too small here, too big there. They just never quite fit your network without a lot of expensive tailoring.
In business networking situation, 62% have their network management stations in the centralized mode, 26% use it in distributed mode. Six percent have no LAN management, according to a survey of 354 Fortune 1,000-equivalent organizations by Business Research Group.
And yet that “other,” meaning not centralized and not decentralized but a cross. between the two, seems to be a badly needed alternative. According to the same survey, 73% of organizations consider the ability to do remote network management absolutely critical. And, according to earlier surveys by BRG, many organizations are concerned about the high and continually increasing expense of network management staff
Details are still sketchy on the distributed architectures of the three big firms selling SNMP management platforms. To be fully functional, according to Mier, the products will have to meet these three criteria:
* They must provide management-station-to-management-station communications, and the vendors must specify the network protocol and the database structure for doing that.
* There must be a user-defined procedure for sharing information and responsibilities between management stations so that management data wouldn’t flood the network, nor would any station have insufficient data for its purposes.
* The distribution of data and access to the management database should be screened from unauthorized people, and there should be a way to ensure that management commands are issued only by authorized stations.
To what extent planned products meet these criteria is still not clear. For example, most of the vendors plan to allow users to encrypt management-to-management traffic, but won’t include it as an integral feature of their products. And some are not too certain whether the database structure they will use will be truly distributed or shared at a common central point. Most say they’ll allow users to pick one of the major database systems, such as Oracle or Sybase, but allowing that choice is not the same thing as setting up a structure.
Although the vendors’ actual plans are unclear, they all share the view that distributed SNMP will be essential in years ahead. As Janet Hyland of Forrester Research points out, the high invisible cost of managing LANs has not declined in recent years. Indeed, they can cost as much as $1,270 per node per year. “Companies are paying through the nose for on-site bodies to compensate for the lack of network and systems management products,” she says, adding that distributed management can help reduce that burden.
Not only are large, enterprise SNMP stations managing more and more nodes these days, says Gartner’s Garry, they’ll soon have an astonishingly higher processing burden when they begin to handle more systems management functions, such as PC software and asset management through the new Desktop Management Interface protocol.
A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE
What to do until distributed SNMP managers come along for the major platforms? Of course, there are proprietary management products, such as those of Boole & Babbage and Maxm Systems, that work as managers of managers. These can be used to link various SNMP managers. But, according to the BRG study, most corporations regard the proprietary manager of managers as unwieldy and expensive.
One group of network managers has already seen a glimpse of the distributed management future. Texas Instruments, for example, has been trying out Cabletron’s distributed management platform, which has been on the market since June, and reports initial satisfaction. But Cabletron’s Spectrum is a high-end product, and the company has been working on it for several years. There is evidence that the products of HP, IBM, and SunSoft are being rushed to market, and they may not work as would be to install a distributed node on a smaller LAN and see if all management information is shared and all promised capabilities delivered. Until that is certain, consultant Mier recommends using such products as Concord Communications’ Trakker, Network General’s Distributed Sniffer, or IBM RMONitor to handle remote diagnostics.
When the leading SNMP platform vendors offer true distributed management, it should help improve the scalability of management and the response times of networks. But do not dive in to distributed management. Closely question vendors and dip a foot first.
The Drawbacks and Uncertainties of Distributed SNMP Management
* Not all divisions may want to join
* Unfiltered polling and extraneous backup stations can increase network traffic
* Management traffic could loop
* Outsiders could penetrate the management structure
* Uncertain links to element management systems
* Unclear database architecture: Do management stations share a common database or distribute the management data?
* Potentially large investment in new tools for distributed management
The issue with these SNMP networks, unfortunately, is that they are only as good as individual nodes. A recent study conducted by Forrester showed that the most popular brands, namely Dell PowerEdge and HP ProLiant, were no longer supporting SNMP, noting that it is not as heavily used anymore. Both manufacturers had experienced high component stress using the protocol, which tended to cause issues with the multiple disk arrays present in these servers.
“SNMP ended up working well for some servers, and not for others,” says Ray Mullen, Dell Server Product Manager. The result has been that guides to recovering Dell PowerEdge server arrays like this tend to strongly suggest disabling the protocol before working on individual RAID servers.