by August 4, 2004 0 comments



Two major challenges for most IT managers today are to ensure network uptime and application availability. While the former falls within the domain of network management, the latter is achievable through proper bandwidth management. In both cases, the objectives are met through a mix of devising the right network policy and choosing the right products. The level of uptime required determines the price and choice of technologies. Let’s look at the key trends in these two realms of bandwidth and network management. 

Bandwidth Management
Bandwidth is something you’ll never have enough of, come what may, whether it’s your Internet connection or private leased lines. But then, you can’t continue adding more bandwidth forever, just because what you have is all used up. At the same time, however, we’re seeing network convergence happening with voice and data traveling over the same link and applications are increasingly placing heavier demands on the bandwidth. The challenge therefore, is to ensure that your business-critical applications get the quality of service they need. This makes bandwidth management a key concern area for most IT managers. 

Network bandwidth: The number of security threats, virus and worm attacks are increasing, so are resource hungry applications such as streaming multimedia and VoIP, which can take a toll on the bandwidth. You need tools to constantly monitor the network traffic and ensure there’s no congestion being caused by these elements
Internet access bandwidth: Bandwidth hoggers such as porn, spam and P2P applications need to be controlled so that business-critical applications get priority
WAN bandwidth: Business applications such as VoIP, ERP and ERM need dedicated bandwidth. Use devices that can establish and maintain QoS policies and improve application throughput
Task-automation software:
Use software to automate routine network management tasks such as patch management, anti-virus updates and data backups
Network-management software:
Network-management software such as IBM Tivoli, HP Openview or CA Unicenter have become highly modular with elements to manage every aspect of your network and IT infrastructure

Since there are so many different types of bandwidth to manage, and so many causes of congestion, there’s no single product or product type that can manage bandwidth. Today, businesses must look at bandwidth management as a complete solution, and it starts from defining a proper policy to control it. This should clearly define which applications are critical for your business, how much bandwidth do they need, and what QoS they need. It should also define how the business would be affected if a particular application doesn’t work due to insufficient bandwidth. It should also clearly define an acceptable usage policy for the employees, stating what they’re allowed to access and what not. Moreover, it should also state the action that would be taken against employees who fail to comply with the rules. 

The choice of products for bandwidth management is made based on these policies you define. Today, there are many products for managing the different types of bandwidth. These are both free and commercial, hardware as well as software. Also, there are products that can indirectly impact bandwidth usage. 

A commonly known product for bandwidth management on WANs is an appliance, Packeteer’s PacketShaper. The product can control bandwidth utilization on your WAN links to ensure QoS for your business critical applications. It can distinguish between various kinds of traffic, be it voice or data, or applications such as ERP or
CRM. 

Another element of bandwidth management solution is bandwidth-monitoring tools. These are of two types, one to monitor the raw throughput and the other to monitor the actual usage. The first one is useful in determining whether you’re actually getting the bandwidth you have paid for. So if you have a 64 Kbps private leased circuit connecting your manufacturing unit to your head office, then the first tool would simply check whether you’re getting 64 Kbps throughput or not. A commonly used tool for this is the Multi-Router Traffic Grapher or MRTG, which is free and available on various platforms. The second tool would indicate which applications are using this bandwidth, the protocol distribution, and even which users are using which applications. This can help you identify the major bandwidth hoggers on your network. A tool called Ntop, available for both Linux and Windows can give you this kind of information. Packet sniffers also fit into this category, as they can tell you which protocols are using most of your network bandwidth. They’re good for determining whether there’s a worm or a hacker attack on your network. Packet sniffers range from free products such as Ethereal to very good commercial ones such as
EtherPeek. 

The other element of bandwidth management is control tools. Once you know your usage levels, you need these tools to establish control over it or take the right action. Two very good tools for managing Internet bandwidth are SurfControl and WebSense, which can do an in-depth analysis of your bandwidth usage and help establish and enforce the right policies.

ISO’s
five conceptual areas of network management

Performance
Management

Measure device utilization 
Determine error rates Ensure 
consistent level of performance
Fault
Management

Detect and report faults
Log reports
Correct faults
Configuration
management

Track h/w and s/w resources 
Manage configuration changes
Accounting
Management

Track network usage by users
Provide billing info on network usage
Security
Management

Limit access to resources
Intimate users of security breaches

Network  Management
Network management has always remained a daunting task. From a purely technical viewpoint, solutions are available today to manage just about every aspect of your network, right from your structured cabling to business applications. It’s changing from mere network management to infrastructure management.

Most network-management software vendors are shifting from traditional monolithic architectures, which would gather information about all network resources using SNMP and pass it to a central control station. They’re making the software more granular, which allows organizations to pick and choose the components depending upon their business needs. So if the business need is to manage the storage infrastructure, then the organization will choose storage-resource management modules from the network management software. If the need were to manage assets, then the elements would be completely different.
Another trend in network management is to automate as many tasks as possible, owing to the increasing network complexity.

So software is available to automate common tasks such as patch management, anti-virus updates and data backups.

Unfortunately, in real life no management software can bring in complete automation even of these simple tasks. They can at best reduce the time and effort that would have gone into it otherwise. Take a large organization for instance, which is spread across different geographical locations. Even if it has to roll out a simple patch update across these locations, there are lots of complexities involved. For instance, if a single patch takes about an hour to install on a machine, and the organization has 100 servers to apply this patch to, it would theoretically take at least 100 hours to apply this patch. That’s nearly four days to apply a single patch. This is not counting the time taken to send the patch to different locations, following up with the network managers at those locations to install it, and finally ensuring that it’s been installed successfully. Given the number of patches that are being released every day, a network manager could spend his entire life updating machines. The situation is worse in case of a new undiscovered worm attack. By the time you get a virus update for it and roll it out, all your machines would be infected. 

The bottom line to network management is that though there’s no end to the solutions available, you’ll never be able to build a perfect network with them. What’s important is to know your business priorities, and how can network management solutions help you meet them. 

IN BRIEF




Bandwidth is the most misused service in an organization, and requires a combination of policy and technology to manage it. Available solutions range from
simple monitoring to establishing control and ensuring that your business-critical applications get the desired quality of service. 

Network management is an ever-evolving field, and there’s no end to the available solutions for it. What’s needed, therefore, is to know your business priorities and then choose the right network management solutions to meet them

COMING UP




Network management is no longer about just using SNMP-based software that discover your network and pass on the information to a central agent. Today, the definition for network-management is much broader, encompassing management of performance, fault, access, accounts and security. Choice of network management software today is governed by which specific element you want to manage on your network. Network management is also about automating routine tasks on your network, such as updates and patches and data backups. Similarly, bandwidth-management solutions vary, based on whether you want to manage your Internet access, network or WAN links. In all cases, the objective is to minimize network
congestion and ensure that applications get the quality of service they need. Anything that can help you achieve this can be considered a bandwidth-management solution. For instance, while an anti-spam software isn’t doing any bandwidth management, but since it’s preventing volumes of spam from entering your network, you’re actually preventing network congestion

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