Opinion: Is it time to re-engineer SNMP?

For more than a decade, SNMP has been the basis for all IP network and systems management. However, as with all legacy software, there comes a time to break with the past and move into the future with a new management construct and architecture that meets the changing demands of vendors, customers and services.

The first step in re-engineering SNMP is to move the management standards efforts out of the IETF and into the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The reason: the next generation of management software will be more system and/or application oriented than infrastructure oriented. In addition, XML, a key component of current software application development, is in the purview of the W3C. The IT industry does not need protocol improvement; it needs standardized Web services engineered for management applications.

It's time to move into the next architectural stage of IT management. For 12 years the industry has attempted to fix, maintain, improve and enhance SNMP within its original architecture. Current software application development uses XML-based Web services as the driving force for application interoperability and communication. Any way you look at it, network and system management is a software application.

Although SNMP has numerous software architectural flaws, two of these flaws are major. The first is that SNMP is dependent upon User Datagram Protocol (UDP) for messaging. UDP does not require explicit message acknowledgement or receiver authentication. Its original architects believed that to make SNMP messaging trustworthy required the addition of overhead features that have potential vulnerabilities when network problems occur, while also increasing complexity.

The second flaw is the "pole-select" software concept -- in SNMP terms, a manager and an agent. The manager is, in almost all cases, the requester in a synchronous request-respond conversation. This type of architecture is outdated and must be replaced by a modern management event-based bus that allows asynchronous messaging using a publish/subscribe model.

Event-based software architectures are the wave of the future for IT policy and operations management. They are the new underpinning for carrier operational support systems and corporate on-demand and utility resource provisioning and autonomic control system software. If these management systems are being re-engineered, why not also re-engineer all network and system management to create a simplified and unified management software and database structure? To this observer, the reason is obvious -- an IT legacy called SNMP.

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