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Corporations do not lack tools for their IT infrastructure in order to manage their business. The market is flooded with a wide range of asset management software, firms just have pick the right one. In theory it sounds rather easy.

However, it is not all that straightforward. Knowing which IT assets you have and how they are used is a challenge for most companies.

This is due to the evolving IT infrastructure. An IT platform  has many different assets and new ones are deployed regularly to manage a firm’s business requirements.

CIOs just keeping an eye on IT inventory is not enough.

In today’s complex business environment, CIOs have to take control of their IT inventory and correlate them against the related financial assets. CIOs have to become business savvy ways of asset management.

Asset management is an activity which the accountants are interested in.

However, it falls into the IT department's area of responsibility, since most of the expensive assets in an office environment is typically the IT infrastructure.

Most organisations have leasing arrangements whereby the equipment must be returned at the end of the warranty period.

Corporations usually plan on a technology refresh every two to three years. Keeping track of equipment movement with multinationals requires a considerable amount of work.

This is especially when offices are amalgamated or there are joint ventures with other companies.

This is why most fault management systems also manage an asset register or database.

If memory is added to a notebook computer to run a new application, a fault ticket would be raised and the additional memory fitted. Once this is done, the database asset tag associated with the PC would be updated.

The asset database can also help plan for an application roll-out, stagger IT upgrade infrastructure costs and most importantly, keep the accountants happy.

When choosing a new solution, you should include an asset management system. You will also need a bar code reader to scan serial numbers and some permanent asset ID tags made.

Some PC manufacturers remove this headache by maintaining manufacturing inventory assets tag online, which can be integrated into your system.

Aligning IT Management to Business Needs

Is there a need to change?

Unless you are an ISP or a similar type of organisation, management always views IT operations as an overhead to the business. Like all internal departments, the management is continuously trying to rationalise every dime it invests in IT and translate it to business value.

Why do you think so many organisations still run Windows XP today?

Despite Microsoft's best marketing attempts to upgrade the planet to its latest and greatest operating system software, organisations look at the cost + benefit analysis.

Example: Cost Plus Benefit Migrating Windows XP® to Windows 7®

 

Cost Benefit
New Hardware (Memory, CPU, etc
Start Programs Faster
Licensing
Additional Security Features
Downtime during hardware software installation
Existing applications may not Work

The only compelling event which would tip the scales in this equation would be if Microsoft withdrew support, or there was a greenfield opportunity.

However, since support is extended to beyond 2014, many existing users of XP will continue to use the product.

The same is true of network management tools.

For instance, if you take a company with an over engineered network for redundancy and have a single site with only standard office automation tools, what is the cost plus benefit for a full network management in this scenario?

An organisation that only uses standard office automation tools (email, internet, word processing, spreadsheet) can determine whether they could benefit from new network management tools.

Cost Benefit
New Hardware, Software
NMS system notification when network outage occurs
Training of Staff
Additional Security Features
Ongoing Support Costs
 Accountability and Audit of why issues occur
 
Mitigate external Security threats

 In the above scenario, the company may only have one or two major IT related incidents a year.

It has firewalls in place and intrusion detection as part of the initial IT deployment.Where is the cost plus benefit here for network management, even free network management?

No matter which way you pitch this scenario to management, justification to spend hard cash on something which isn't a problem is never going to work.

Either the dynamics of an organisation would need to change such as: Multiple remote sites, without on-site support.

  •     Business critical, custom applications used.
  •     Integration with third party organisations.
  •     Hosted web presence, online business.

Or a compelling event would need to take place. Perhaps an intermittent networking issue, which took weeks to diagnose and resolve.

The purchasing decision would then be based on insurance for the future.
If you are visiting this site,then your firm probably falls into one of the categories mentioned, and chances are you already have some kind of management buy-in for network management.

The challenge, however, is deciding which type of technology provides the best bang for buck, and how to deploy the technology where it will be useful.

Management Strategies

Reduction in the MTTR is critical if the company is involved in:

  • Retail operations, direct link to lost revenues.

  • Healthcare, life and death.

  • Banking Finance, direct link to lost revenues.

Monitoring the end user experience is important if the organisation is involved in:

  • Internet, online retailing, direct link to lost retail revenue.

  • Service providers, direct link to user churn.

  • Financial trading, trading delays affect buy/sell accuracy.

Obviously there are crossovers when both strategies are critical to a business, so managing both the MTTR and user experience are desirable.

Deciding What to Manage

Consider the following typical network map.

hubandspoke

This Network map is fairly typical of most remote site deployments. The head office contains all the server resources and the branch connects to the central site.

This is known as a hub and spoke network. Sometimes branch routers are connected together for redundancy or because there is a need for inter-site traffic such as IP telephony.

If you were to monitor all the traffic present on all the three WAN routers, you would typically find the two branch routers contain a duplicate of 90% of the traffic destined for the HQ.

And, if you were to monitor this, you would need to bring the duplicated traffic back to the same network management server for inspection, which would consume additional bandwidth unnecessarily.

It would be far more efficient to locate the monitoring resources at the HQ in this situation, since all traffic generally terminates at the HQ.

Is there value in monitoring the throughput at the branch switches? Probably not.

This is simply because LAN switches operate at 100/1000Mbs and any bottleneck will always be the lower speed WAN connection to HQ.

In this scenario there is a local server at each branch site in addition to the servers at the HQ.

Clients access the local server perhaps for authentication to the network, use some bandwidth intensive applications which doesn't work well over the WAN, and have a local gateway for IP telephones.

By only monitoring traffic at the HQ site we lose visibility of the local traffic at the remote site. Do we need to replicate the monitoring resources at the HQ site at each branch? Probably not because this is not cost effective.

However, a solution is required for these applications.

A simple network management protocol( SNMP) would be useful to gauge the utilisation and any trap alarms the server or connected switch may send.

Enabling Netflow could provide utilisation of conversation flow as to which client is using the most bandwidth.

However, you do need to consider the following: Things we already know about the remote branch.

 Infrastructure

1.The number and type of PCs and servers.

2.The applications and operating systems installed on the PCs.

3.The configuration of the LAN and WAN connections (Network Map) to HQ.

 Events

1. A backup occurs over the WAN at 2am each morning.

2.The size of the back up.

3.A virus scan update is pushed out to all clients via broadcast at least once a fortnight.

 WAN Traffic

1.Server domain replication traffic occurs.

2. NTP time protocol updates.

3. RTP for voice sessions to HQ and other branches.

4. Internet via proxy located at HQ.

5. Two business applications delivered in a client server configuration.

Since the infrastructure applications are controlled, the only variable which isn't predictable is the Internet access,

However, some form of QoS or priority queuing would control the throughput in this instance. The case for monitoring the remote branch is really knowing what isn't happening at the remote branch.

SNMP monitoring would provide the details of the utilisation at various times of the day and provide alarms. The web proxy would provide details as to what the users were doing on the internet.

The voice quality monitoring is the only compelling event to place additional monitoring resources at a branch location over and above the standard SNMP tools.

 

By Craig Sutherland

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