New Software Helps Enforce Service Levels

FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - Net professionals intent on focusing less on the conventional tasks of managing complex networks and more on monitoring the activities of specific business operations may want to look at management packages on tap from a variety of vendors.

Products from startups such as Centricity and Open Network Enterprise, as well as established players such as Computer Associates International Inc. and Edge Technologies Inc., will help customers more effectively uphold internal or third-party service-level agreements (SLA) and enforce quality of service (QoS) across a collection of resources.

The products' features let customers:

Set group or individual priority access to bandwidth or other network resources.

Monitor and manage specific parts of a company's network to see if they are receiving agreed-upon SLA levels.

Drill into specific parts of a network to analyze underlying performance problems that disrupt QoS.

Alert users when network resources are unavailable.

Collect and assemble network statistics to create a map of a given department or business process, along with performance results.

While these companies may be approaching the issue from different angles, they are all part of a service-level management trend coming to IT, says Stan Schatt, an analyst with Giga Information Group, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, consultancy. With the rise of SLAs comes the need to look at how well network resources are delivered to a given user, rather than just looking at thousands of devices on a network and evaluating their performance.

Concord Communications, with its Network Health product, has been delving into this service-level management area for some time, says Schatt, and now other companies are joining in.

For instance, the software startup Centricity in Oregon plans to offer Project Eureka - a product that will implement QoS not through network devices or servers but by controlling the end user's client. While details on Eureka are sketchy, Centricity executives say the software has two parts: a control point, which can be a server or a desktop; and a client piece on the end user's desktop.

Customers define SLA policies in the control point. For instance, a certain user in a remote office gets a certain application at a certain time. The control point communicates with the client agents. If a nonpriority user is getting too much network bandwidth, violating the SLA level, the control point will communicate with that client agent and tell it to throttle down, Centricity executives say.

A "virtual help desk" program alerts users to SLA violations in real time.

Further Eureka details and pricing will be announced in June.

Edge Technologies, a software vendor in Fairfax, Virginia, plans this summer to introduce enPortal - which will let customers integrate network, application and business process data into a single customizable portal on Windows NT and Unix servers. EnPortal can take data from a company's existing management products - such as Hewlett-Packard's OpenView - and integrate it with data culled from similar tools.

IS professionals can generate network performance reports based on a given process, such as transaction processing. This data can be shared with other members of the company or business partners to chart SLA compliance throughout a network. The tool will also offer a central point to manage a given business process or department regardless of the management application's platform.

Established vendors are jumping into the game, too. Computer Associates at its CA World show this week will detail NetworkIT Service Level Management Option, a software module for the company's NetworkIT network management suite. The module is available now for beta users. Pricing was not disclosed.

In the same vein is Open Network Enterprise's Net Investigator, a Java-based tool that collects SNMP data and other information from network devices. The package runs on Unix and Windows NT servers and contains a Java applet program called Web Inspector that gathers information about Web site performance.

The information is stored in an Oracle database and is used to create customized reports that detail the QoS performance of a group of devices or servers over a period of time - for instance, a group of e-mail servers supporting a sales department. These reports can be generated in chart form and shared with other business departments or can be used to interpret and detect network problems. Net Investigator is available now and starts at $9,000.

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