Consider the Cloud When Choosing Network Management and Monitoring

After all, enterprise networks are getting more complex as globalization continues to rage – despite the recession. And outsourcing and the growth of wireless are expanding networks beyond their traditional reach. Consider, too, that IT departments are being asked to guarantee that applications and services run well across both private and public networks. Beyond that, the rise and growth of virtualization and cloud computing makes the job of monitoring and troubleshooting all the components of a computing network even more of a challenge. Why? Because virtualization removes the hardware from the application and creates traffic more difficult to monitor and troubleshoot. And with cloud computing, apps are not housed on the existing enterprise infrastructure and instead reside over the public network. Because ownership of the issue is now shared between the IT staff and your cloud service provider, it makes it even more difficult to correctly identify and track down performance issues. So the heat is on; and ratchets the pressure up a notch with CIOs demanding cost reduction and higher service levels. All in all, it means finding ways to work more efficiently and effectively. And the right network management tools will offer you the right mix of products that meet both your monitoring and management needs. So what kinds of capabilities should you look for in a network management system? In this white paper we will focus on the generalities, and then we will discuss specific vendors that might be useful to you. First, because change is a constant, not only in business but in life, too, IT must keep the network up and running regardless of moves, additions and changes. While network management solutions were once built solely to manage devices, now they’re more complex because they have to manage new types of traffic – such as voice and streaming video which are very latency sensitive. Plus, now that private corporate networks are on the public Internet, there are new concerns that IT must be concerned about – such as traffic levels and security issues. So, consequently, it’s important to consider solutions that can monitor:

  • network traffic
  • end-user views and activities
  • applications and databases
  • system events
  • server resources
  • network hardware
  • virtual machines
  • protocols
  • cloud platforms
  • assets and configurations

You need these elements for a complete end-to-end picture of network and system health. These individual elements are necessary for the whole because, too often, when there are performance problems, the network is the first to be blamed. In fact, the problem could just as easily be an application glitch or trouble with end-user activities. Monitoring provides IT with a more proactive rather than reactive approach – as it will help mitigate problems before they happen and reduce mean time between failures. Right now, unfortunately, most enterprise IT network departments use many disparate tools to try and improve visibility. Plus, IT departments are too often structured into distinct silo organizations, and that only compounds the problem because information isn’t shared. For greater visibility, things must change, and IT groups must work to share information in order to be proactive. Network management suites have expanded well beyond monitoring just devices, and this broader view helps networking engineers determine potential bottlenecks before they happen. Putting the right enterprise network management solution in place sheds light on the entire network and improves overall network stability and reliability. At Monitis, our end-to-end monitoring system offers a holistic, hybrid monitoring and included all the components mentioned above. Being a cloud service it also makes the whole acquisition process easy and cost-effective – starting from the procurement, setup and on-going maintenance. Why am I going through this exercise? I think we’re approaching a critical point in IT where the pressures of cost-control measures can be relieved by new technologies, such as virtual machines and cloud services. For anyone in IT, it’s worth it to review our options and keep up to date with the newest, most creative ideas.

Vendor solutions

Basically, five different types of network management solutions – each with their own advantages — are on the market for your choosing. The offerings include:

  • large system IT vendors,
  • ISVs,
  • open source,
  • appliance-based solutions
  • and last—but surely not least—cloud-based SaaS solutions.

Let’s start with solutions from large IT vendors. You should easily recognize the names: eHealth and Spectrum from CA, IBM’s Tivoli NetCool, HP’s Network Node Manager, Ionix/Smarts from EMC, and CiscoWorks from Cisco. These solutions are like commodities – they’re widely available, and because of their large portfolio of products and services are very successful in giant, global companies. Here’s a quick rundown on both their shiny and dark sides:

Suitable User Base Positives Negatives
– Large, global corporations, organizations – stable, well-established – scalable architecture – rich platform support, 24/7 – numerous partner programs for selling, development, support – pricey – if customization needed, may require additional staff – complex licensing models – difficult to roll out updates

ISVs – Big system vendors are on the prowl for solutions from Independent Software Vendors and have been for several years. Recently, CA bought NetQoS in order to expand its enterprise IT management portfolio. Meanwhile, Ipswitch, ManageEngine, and SolarWinds have been filling the void, especially with small to midsize companies that the big system vendors have always underserved. But ISV solutions work for organizations of all sizes. Here are the pros and cons:

Suitable User Base Positives Negatives
– Companies of all sizes, especially small and mid-size firms – easy to use (Windows-based) – lower cost of entry than large systems – simple licensing solutions – work well with other vendor solutions (rip and replace not required) – not meant to replace large legacy systems; can play only complementary role – hidden costs in maintenance and upkeep

Open Source – These solutions are another option for network management. Some of the more prominent solutions include: Cacti, GroundWorks, Nagios, OpenNMS, and Wireshark. Open source network management first became popular with companies on limited IT budgets – those who, for example, could handle the scripting and application customization on their own. But they’ve since evolved and their appeal has broadened with improved user interfaces and support services. Here’s a quick look at open source solution pros and cons:

Suitable User Base Positives Negatives
– Typically large corporations, as they have resident expertise to implement, configure, and maintain solutions – as well as work with the community to resolve technical issues. – free software – access to user code (gives IT a head start, rather than building something in-house from scratch) – fee based support (e.g. how-to videos, user and developer documentation) available for purchase – enables users to report bugs and developers to create new features – nature of open-source tech means developers can move on to other projects, adding a level of instability – hidden costs in maintenance and upkeep – highly customized solutions can mean smaller support base if experts leave a project

Appliance – On the market for over two decades, these solutions are in demand again. Appliance solutions are dedicated hardware devices with hardened operating systems and software optimized to collect and analyze huge volumes of data at a very granular level. Some popular, well-known solutions are NetScout and Opnet (offering packet flow analysis ) and Network General (now owned by NetScout) for packet sniffers. These solutions were first popular in the 90s, when Ethernet and new forms of IP-based traffic began flooding networks, requiring network managers to gain more visibility and to determine where the bottlenecks were occurring. Then, WAN traffic began to increase in volume and impact network performance. So new players like Network Instruments, Fluke Networks, Niksun, and WildPackets came on the scene. These days, however, with network visibility ranking first in importance for IT management, these types of solutions are once again enjoying popularity with enterprises and service providers. Here are some things to consider for appliance solutions:

Suitable User Base Positives Negatives
– Appeals to enterprise, as well as service providers who need to analyze large data sets. – can be dropped into critical points on network – low-touch, easy to maintain – provide multiple options for data to be collected, stored – can do real-time analysis of traffic flows, root cause analysis (troubleshooting) – offers diagnostic software to run and maintain dedicated boxes – no configuring and maintaining a server – can be expensive for devices, as well as probes – can’t download for evaluation – detailed licensing, pricing information not readily available on websites – volume pricing typically expensive

Cloud-based SaaS – More and more, experts say that cloud-based solutions answer the need for enterprises of all sizes to monitor and troubleshoot across multiple components, for example, servers, VMs, networks, and applications. Why? For one, the cloud offers the chance to improve operational efficiencies. Also, only through greater visibility and shared knowledge can IT departments stay ahead of problems, before they become trouble tickets. Operators need tools that they can use and rely upon to provide both monitoring and troubleshooting information. For this reason cloud-based solutions such as those from Monitis provide a good alternative to those from system IT vendors, ISVs and appliance vendors – because they combine a low-cost of entry with ease-of-use, while still providing enterprise-wide visibility and scalability. Also unique to Monitis is their community. Monitis is in constant and intensive contact with its customers. Through the community, developers are alerted early to the problems a new technology may pose and are able to incorporate changes into the product roadmap to accommodate them. Monitis also can monitor usage of the product and align its functionality and performance to the current usage.

Suitable User Base Positives Negatives
– All sizes of companies, appealing especially to those on IT budget restraints, for example, small and mid-size firms. – low-cost entry with multiple support options – a la carte pricing, enabling users to pay only for what they need – frequent updates, revisions due to web-based nature – no need for packaging, delivery, patching, installation – all users work on latest version of software – vendors provide better service, as customers pay recurring fees and may cancel at any time, – works well with other vendors’ products via APIs – no need for extra hardware – scalable – easy instant setup – zero maintenance cost – user hesitancy to place private data on cloud servers – occasional cloud platform access issues

Unstable economic conditions around the world means that companies need to remain flexible and adaptable. Companies need a management tools strategy which can grow and adjust to new situations and scenarios. So, IT organizations seeking to improve operational efficiency and network visibility should carefully choose their tools and consider new cloud-generation vendors such as Monitis that offer broad capabilities coupled with flexibility, agility, and a strong supporting user community model.

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