N+I: Spectrum to get management boost

At NetWorld +Interop 2000, Cabletron System's Aprisma spinoff will unveil new management technology to make it easier for users to proactively isolate and resolve critical network and systems problems.

Aprisma will announce Spectrum 6.0, a new, more open version of the company's flagship management package. Among its new features are a Web-based graphical user interface, and support for multivendor APIs that will bolster Spectrum's ability to handle non-Cabletron hardware and work with third-party management applications.

In addition, the firm will announce a management technology called Prism, which uses a business intelligence engine to automate network and systems management. Prism will be an adjunct to Spectrum 6.0 in the future, Aprisma executives say.

More than predictions

Executives who briefed Network World say that eventually Spectrum and Prism will be able to not only predict network outages, but also determine their potential effects on users and the business.

For instance, the software will use artificial intelligence to model the effects of a network crash - determining which users would be most affected and what the outage would mean to the business. Also, performance problems could be analysed to see if the problem was caused by the application, server or network. Today, multiple management packages would be needed to correlate those types of events, executives say.

Aprisma is adding the advanced technology to take on much larger competitors, such as Hewlett-Packard, Tivoli Systems and Computer Associates, which have considerably greater mind and market share. Indeed, Spectrum had overall sales of $64 million in 1998, says San Jose research firm Dataquest, as compared to market leaders Tivoli and HP, which had sales of $201 million and $209 million, respectively. Now that Aprisma is a separate entity free of Cabletron's shadow, it will move more innovative products to market faster, a number of analysts believe.

Spectrum was usually judged in terms of its hardware-based Cabletron parent, says Valerie O'Connell, an analyst at the Boston consultancy the Aberdeen Group. This will change, she says, but Spectrum must actively continue to promote itself as being an e-business management supplier, she says.

Aprisma is moving in the right direction by supporting multiple vendors' products, say John McConnell of McConnell Associates, a Boulder Colorado-based consultancy. Aprisma is targeting large enterprises and massive service providers that need to be able to manage vast networks quickly. Because of its relationship with companies such as Cisco, whose products it supports natively, the company has been steadily becoming a credible independent software vendor free of parent Cabletron's influence.

Spectrum 6.0 has a feature that will model and benchmark the performance of applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Oracle.

Currently the package can benchmark only network devices. Once a package is benchmarked, if the application performance is violated, an alarm appears on the management console.

To keep pace with next-generation Web hardware technology, the firm also claims Spectrum can benchmark and monitor 20 new optical and broadband network devices, such as the Cisco IGX and MGX series switches.

Aprisma is adding a Web browser-based console to Spectrum to complement the current PC console. There will also be a SQL-based database, which will allow easier access to management information than the current proprietary database. Spectrum will also have a Common Object Request Broker Architecture-based API that will let IS staff tie its information to or pull information from third-party products, such as Concord's performance reporting application. This capability means users can look at a single console to view network and systems activity.

Closing Spectrum gaps

Opening Spectrum up to other network monitoring packages may address some gaps in the product's features that users have found frustrating. One such user is Mike Wiseman, support engineer at the University of Toronto.

Wiseman says he has been pleased with Spectrum's performance managing his 20,000-user LAN and WAN. However, he says he's wanted to generate Web reports with charts that he can share with other departments, but has been unable to do so.

In addition to the third-party ties, Spectrum now can recognise and list the logical connections between devices. Previously, it could only view a network's hard-wired connections, which kept it from mapping connectivity such as ATM permanent virtual circuits.

Among the key Prism features coming to Spectrum will be the ability to look at network performance not just in terms of devices and applications, but in terms of the overall e-business. For example, the Spectstroserver analysis engine, which handles the artificial intelligence for Spectrum, will be modified to predict the business impact of a crashed Web page or e-mail server.

Moreover, end users in a workgroup can receive automatic notifications if a server is down. In turn, Spectrum will let an IS staff know if a department with lost services is a crucial business workgroup or not. Further adjustments to the Spectrum analysis engine will let it break down a problem, and tell if it is being caused by a server, a firewall or a router misconfiguration.

While Prism technology is slated for release before year- end, it is unclear if it will be rolled out separately or bundled with Spectrum.

Spectrum 6.0 will be available in May; pricing will start at $25,000 for the branch manager version and $100,000 for its enterprise manager. It runs on Windows NT and Solaris.

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