ZENworks for Networks Ups Efficiency

Freeways and networks have at least one thing in common: On both, traffic expands to fill the available space. Between construction costs and the lack of real estate in key areas, it's not practical to keep adding lanes. Nor is it practical to throw more bandwidth at your network problems -- in both situations, you end up with huge traffic jams.

Your carrier may not have capacity for your extra T-1, and if it does, your budget probably doesn't. For network managers, the only way out of this catch-22 is to manage bandwidth more efficiently, because doing so can save companies money while maximizing productivity and customer access.

While network management tools have existed almost as long as networks, traditional approaches manage individual devices instead of managing traffic itself. To manage traffic effectively, you need to have policies determining who gets priority and when. Perhaps the only way to ensure that you apply policies effectively is to use a directory service that can distinguish between different users and groups. Novell Inc.'s ZENworks for Networks 1.0 builds upon the strengths of NDS to create a true policy-based bandwidth management system.

ZENworks for Networks is a complex beast to install, but the option to set up a complete policy infrastructure can save a lot of effort. Once the automatic device discovery completed, it was simple to create rules for managing network traffic. In a matter of minutes, I had assigned highest priority to my network management traffic such as DNS (Domain Name Services) and SLP (Service Locator Protocol), while limiting FTP traffic to 30 percent of the available bandwidth.

Enough has been said about the shortcomings of Novell's ConsoleOne management interface, but the ZENworks for Networks (ZfN) user interface itself needs some help. In particular, I disliked the way the properties for each rule had to be accessed one-by-one from the management console. Putting these functions in a tabbed collection of panes accessed with a single click would be a big improvement.

ZfN, like the other ZENworks products, relies upon NDS to supply user and group information. Architecturally, ZfN uses a Policy Server running on NetWare or Windows NT Server to play the role of "enforcer."

The ZfN installation also sets up a Traffic Monitor on each network segment; these can run on NetWare, or Windows NT, and feed data back to the Policy Server similar to the way sensors at an intersection detect a car, activating the traffic light's left-turn arrow.

Because ZfN uses NDS, implementing policy-based management is a snap. In most cases, you already have users and groups in place, so once you define the levels of network service that are appropriate for each (or on a global basis), you're almost home. For example, while some of your users merit special handling even for their e-mail and file and print traffic, the bulk of the traffic generated by the rank-and-file can take a backseat when the network is busy.

Concerns aside, ZENworks for Networks 1.0 offers a great deal to organizations that can't afford an ever-increasing Internet pipe and want to make better use of their existing bandwidth. It's a very good first step on the road to managing networks more efficiently, using familiar tools and well-understood foundation technology.

P.J. Connolly (pj_connolly@infoworld.com) is a technology analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

ZENworks for Networks 1.0

Business Case: This network tool reduces the need to throw bandwidth at network bottlenecks -- an expensive substitute for network management. It allocates your resources, ensuring that the existing pipe is used efficiently.

Technology Case: ZENworks for Networks simplifies the task of establishing a quality-of-service infrastructure by using NDS to provide the user and group information necessary for successful policy-based management.

Pros:

+ Manages hardware from multiple vendors+ Uses existing directory service supplied with NetWare+ Point-and-click UI allows for graphic view of alarms, policy statusCons:

- Management UI still clunky, using too many disconnected panes instead of one tabbed window- Support for major vendors (e.g. Nortel) missingCost: $70 per NetWare user licensePlatform(s): NetWare 5; NetWare 4/5 or Windows NT 4.0 required for Policy Server and Traffic MonitorNovell Inc., Provo, Utah; www.novell.com; (801) 222-6000

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