How to Find Devices Without Guesswork

FRAMINGHAM (03/24/2000) - It's Monday: Do you know where your routers are? Can you really pinpoint the exact physical location of every device on your network?

If you can't, you might want to talk to Visionael Corp. The Palo Alto, California-based company has a product that collects information about a network's hardware, how it's interconnected and what applications are running where. It could be everything you need to plan and maintain your corporate connectivity infrastructure.

Visionael's eponymous product, now at Version 5.1, is aimed at the information technology department's network designers and maintenance staff - the people who install and deploy the hardware, says CEO Marc Jones. Visionael takes traffic data from widely used network management tools, like those from Austin, Texas-based Tivoli Systems Inc. It combines that data with a library of device-specific information so engineers can view both the logical and physical sides of network devices.

Getting a Picture of Assets

In the end, says Jones, companies get a complete picture of their network assets, which allows them to maximize the use of existing devices and better plan additions to and reorganizations of the network.

Visionael is appealing to IT shops that support large, complex networks, says John Morency, executive vice president of consulting at high-tech industry observer Sage Research Inc. in Natick, Massachusetts. These IT departments are under pressure to produce a level of service quality that's measurable and can be monitored. A product that can help boost network availability and performance is highly desirable, says Morency. Visionael's reporting features and automation address these key IT requirements. One benefit is that it rescues support personnel from routine monitoring, freeing them to work on more proactive tasks, he says.

Morency also cites Visionael's scalability as a significant asset. "To provide this capability across tens of thousands of managed elements is not trivial," he explains. Plus, in order to be effective, the library of elements has to be extensive and include information on all the products and their features.

Visionael's library allows it to flag important issues.

For example, Morency says, one common network problem is when a device is running an outdated software version. Discovering this - a relatively straightforward asset problem - can be difficult with a network monitoring product.

Jones cites the product's collaboration and project management features as time-savers for network engineers. There are often clashes for resources, he says, especially in corporations with more than 5,000 employees that have networks that are managed from multiple locations. Visionael's database can keep track of who is changing what device, so potential conflicts don't occur.

Updates are sent over the network so everyone is informed about changes.

Device Library Expands

Visionael recently acquired Boston-based NetSuite Development Corp., a developer of network discovery and design software. Jones says this will expand Visionael's device library and give it improved logical design capabilities to complement its current facilities for physical design.

Visionael Vice President Richard Zambuni says it's part of a push to win the big-fish position by the time the mass market for these products evolves.

Although the playing field is fairly clear at the moment, Jones says one potential problem he worries about is major players - such as current partners Cisco Systems Inc. or IBM - deciding to enter the game.

Morency agrees that those types of companies pose a serious threat. "At the end of the day, it's really name recognition that's going to win [IT managers over]," he says.

That leaves the door open for a respected networking company to enter the market. That desire for brand-name security also factors into Visionael's ability to penetrate the large enterprises, which Jones targets as one of the company's sweet spots. Visionael's partnering agreements with established network equipment vendors will be a valuable selling point, enabling the company to offer complete networking systems, he says.

Morency says he sees another threat to the company: businesses deciding to outsource their network management. If that happens, planning and maintenance tasks will shift outside the IT department to application service providers and Internet service providers, shrinking the customer base.

Johnson is a Computerworld contributing writer in Seattle.

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