Why A Mix ‘n Match Strategy Causes Network Management Headaches

Last time, we introduced network management as an essential – indeed, key – element in network and IT operational success and productivity.

Let’s continue with a look at what these products do, and some of the challenges that have made the wide and ranging diversity of network-management technologies less than productive.

First, the requirements:

Network infrastructure – The range of management functionality here (depending upon specific product, of course) is vast, including planning, configuration, deployment, ongoing administration, monitoring, alerts and alarms, troubleshooting and remediation, security, integrity, resilience, availability, reporting, policy and regulatory compliance, and cost control, efficiency, and effectiveness.

The most common vehicle here is the console that is associated with a given product – but there are numerous complicating factors (and usually numerous consoles as well), as we’ll discuss below.

Computing infrastructure – This includes local PCs, servers, and, increasingly, computing provisioned in a private or public cloud.

Specific management capabilities will be a function of the particular console or service involved, but the potential range of configurations and applications is vast.

Client devices – This is usually the domain of enterprise mobility management (EMM), and includes mobile device, application, content, expense (service cost management), identity (also applicable to PCs), and policy management.

Software and adjunct products – New innovations in the management space usually appear as point product innovations, requiring new consoles and often new hardware elements as well.

Examples include network-, application-, and related performance-management tools, capacity management, and the rapidly-emerging field of network analytics.

Cloud services – And, finally, much of the above can be, and increasingly is, implemented in the cloud.

This is in fact a critical and very exciting development – the cloud offers potential improvements in cost, reliability, resilience, scalability, and IT staff productivity. The cloud is, in fact, likely the most important direction in solving the management and operations challenge (more on this in Part 3 of this series.)

This diverse (to say the least) set of requirements has led to four key challenges becoming the elephant in the room, as follows:

1. Multi-vendor environments – It’s rare for a given organization to use network gear only from one single vendor. The mix ‘n’ match interoperability that enables best-of-breed multi-vendor solutions, and which has formed the backbone of the networking industry for decades, does, however, have a downside – multiple management solutions and the potential for configurations that beat against one another.

2. Solution complexity – Complex solutions tend to increase the amount of management overhead required. Thoreau was right – we really must simplify. But such is often (read: usually) much more difficult to achieve given the fast-paced, high-demand world of network management. Complex solutions thus may (read: often) become unmanageable, unreliable, unpredictable, and – expensive.

3. Operating expense management – Which brings us back to the operating-expense issue. Many IT organizations are dealing with the continuing fallout from the last recession, often simplified as IT having to do 10% more with 10% less funding – and every year.

Complexity, often resulting from mix ‘n’ match solutions, is always the enemy of cost-efficiency. And the budgetary situation is certainly not likely to improve as end-user support costs continue to rise in many shops.

4. Managing the fundamental evolution of IT – No IT installation is static. Upgrades, enhancements, and even new directions altogether are part of essentially every operating plan. Non-disruptive scaling for capacity, geography, and constant increases in the numbers of users and devices is also inevitable.

But just how do IT managers accomplish all of this transparently and efficiently? Yes, the elusive management console (or consoles) is indeed the key.

Progress in the management space – and lots of it – is being made. More on the exciting possibilities here – and in the clouds – next time

All posts in this series:

1) Why Mastering Network Management Is Key To Every-User Happiness

2) Why A Mix ‘n Match Strategy Causes Network Management Headaches

3) Why Having A Single Pane Of Glass Makes Network Management Easier


Craig J. Mathias is a Principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specializing in wireless networking and mobile IT. Founded in 1991, Farpoint Group works with technology developers, manufacturers, carriers and operators, enterprises, and the financial community. Craig is an internationally-recognized industry and technology analyst, consultant, conference and event speaker, and author. He currently writes columns for Boundless, Connected Futures, CIO.com, and various sites at TechTarget. Craig holds an Sc.B. degree in Computer Science from Brown University, and is a member of the Society of Sigma Xi and the IEEE.

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