Network management as core competency

Jim Metzler of Ashton, Metzler & Assoc. talks about network management as a core competency.

You have presented a discussion titled "Network Management: The New Core Competency." What is meant by the "new core competency"? Hasn't network management always been a crucial part of a network manager's role?

Yes it has. However, network management has always been regarded more as a necessary evil than as something that contributes directly to the business.

What were the three top concerns of network managers last year, and how were these addressed?

Security has been a top concern for the last few years. In general, IT organizations are addressing security by adding security functionality into more and more components of the infrastructure. In particular, security is no longer just firewalls; it includes functionality such as virus scanning, intrusion detection systems and intrusion prevention systems.

Application optimization has become a top issue. However, most IT organizations have dealt with it in a very tactical way -- deploying the least amount of equipment, in the fewest places possible, and only in response to a problem.

Compliance has also become a top issue in the last year. One of the ways that IT organizations respond to this is to consolidate servers out of branch offices and into centralized data centers. It is much easier to guarantee the accuracy and security of data that is stored in one place vs. data that is stored in tens or even hundreds of branch offices.

What will be the top three concerns of net managers in 2006 and how should these be addressed?

I think that the same issues will be top of mind in 2006. In the case of both security and application optimization, it is important for IT organizations to develop an architecture for how all of the various components of security and application optimization come together. That architecture should also recognize that while it has been common to think of security and application optimization as separate disciplines, that key vendors in both spaces are looking to converge those disciplines.

In terms of compliance, IT organizations need to develop a centralized or perhaps federated architecture for their data (I am not saying a data networking architecture). This architecture would identify the key data elements that the company has. It would also identify the owner of each data element and who has permission to read or change those elements.

Which upcoming technologies will most help network managers in the coming 18 months, and which vendors should we take notice of?

Analytics holds the most promise to help network managers work through volumes of data. Look for smaller companies such as NetScout.

CMDB [configuration management database] holds promise -- but probably closer to the end of the 18 months. Look for large established network management vendors such as HP.

What were the mistakes that network managers or network management software vendors made last year and what can we learn from those mistakes?

The perpetual mistake made by both network managers and network management software vendors is to maintain the existing stovepipes. Sometimes these stovepipes are based on the lack of technological interoperability. However, sometimes they are based on rigid organizational structures.

What was the most interesting dynamic relative to network management in the last 12 months?

The amazing spate of acquisitions. For example, CA acquired Concord, Fluke announced its intention to acquire Visual, and IBM announced its intent to acquire Micromuse.

Are there areas of network management that usually go unnoticed by network managers but will likely sneak up on them without much warning in 2006?

I think that CMDB has that potential. So does analytics.

End users seem to blame the network when applications are slow. Where does the buck stop -- with the applications folks who built the software (whether in-house or external) or the network operation center? How best should network managers work with the apps folks to ensure end users never have cause for complaints?

Neither. The days in which a network professional could buy a tool primarily to prove that the problems were not in the network are beginning to be history. Most senior managers are beginning to push back and say, "I don't care where the problem is, I need you to be part of finding and resolving it."

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