Network Management Systems (NMS)

Network Management is a catch-all term to describe the processes and systems involved in maintaining network services and infrastructure.

Some of the roles of NMS systems include:

  • Service monitoring
  • Inventory database and reporting
  • Firmware and patch management
  • 24/7 Event Monitoring
  • Event Alerting via Email, SMS etc
  • Historical performance statistics
  • Record-keeping for Audit requirements
  • Capacity Planning
  • RF mapping
  • Inventory database
  • Network Visualisation
  • Resource management: IP addressing, VLANs
  • Ensure configuration consistency
  • Report on Compliance with Security or Management Standards

As you can see, there is a large and varied burden on NMS to support network management. In our experience even larger organisations often fall short on meeting these requirements and are lacking capability in one or more key areas.

WHAT SOLUTION?

A comprehensive NMS solution will include elements of all of the above. However the reality is that there is no one tool ideal for managing all aspects of a network. Administrators will rely on a suite of tools and a variety of skills in order to maintain a network, diagnose issues and plan for upgrades.

With proper understanding of requirements, it is possible to select a small set of optimal tools for the job. Vendor systems tools can be essential for maintaining certain infrastructure. For example Voice and Wireless networks typically have different management needs from a traditional wired network and benefit from commercial management solutions. However 'All-In-One' off-the-shelf  solutions are not always effective and may require a large investment in time to configure and maintain. Often a vendor-agnostic tool is required to ensure a base level of network management across the entire network infrastructure. Being largely software-based, many effective NMS are available for free and can be successfully incorporated into an enterprise-grade solution.

MONITORING

Monitoring a network incorporates many tools and tactics. Ultimately, the goal is for administrators to have full visibility of their network and how it is being used. This term encompasses several elements:

  • Visibility of Network Events, such as via traps and alerts
  • Continuous monitoring, such as polling devices every few minutes for link traffic and CPU & memory usage
  • Visualisation tools such as graphs and weather maps

In some cases administrators need instant and timely notification of events. In other cases deep historical data is necessary.

REPORTING

Generally, reporting aggregates data collected from monitoring, into meaningful summaries over a fixed time interval such as hourly, daily or weekly.

All organisations will benefit from a reporting component to help track the suitability of the network and whether it is meeting business needs. For service providers Availability Reporting can be as important as monitoring, as it is one of the means by which Service Level Agreements with customers are tracked.

VISUALISATION

Most NMS offer some graphing capability for displaying continuous data, such as link utilisation and CPU usage.

Weather Maps are also incredibly effective at providing snapshots of the network and summarising  the instantaneous data from a large number of network elements. Effective weather maps allow drill down into more detailed data via the graphical interface.

TROUBLESHOOTING

For troubleshooting, access to even more detailed data via specialised tools can be required. When this data cannot be captured on a routine basis, we require a means to deliver it to your engineering staff on demand. This can include real-time debugging and packet captures for example.

EVENT CORRELATION (SIEM)

Security Information & Event Management. These are systems that attempt to aggregate and correlate event data from a variety of source on the network. For example a single link failure may generate events from a large number of devices, and a SIEM tries to summarise these to a single event.

DHCP, DNS & IP Address Management (DDI)

DDI is an emerging market segment offering products designed to combine the roles of DNS, DHCP and IP Management into integrated appliances. These devices seek to do away with the spreadsheet that is still commonly used for address management, and to develop a linear workflow around IP addressing. This sector is currently dominated by Infoblox.

Our NMS Services

BGC IT Solutions offers a unique NMS service that can evaluate your requirements and propose alternative cost-effective solutions. Where appropriate we recommend freely available unlicensed software to supplement systems.

Our goals in delivering NMS solutions are:

  • Comprehensively monitor your network
  • Minimise NMS infrastructure and maintenance costs
  • Maximise monitoring and troubleshooting capability for support staff
  • Maximise reporting capability for management

Rules of Thumb

Here are some general best practices for NMS we have developed over the course of operating large networks:

  • Collect and store as much useful data as you can
  • Define Alerting requirements according to Service Levels, and classify events
  • Develop a business process for ensuring all infrastructure is monitored and maintained
  • Ensure NMS tools are as highly available as your network and remote accessible
  • Back up NMS data
  • Prioritise monitoring traffic

Did you know?

While NMS systems vary greatly, most rely to a large degree on the same open standards: SNMP, Syslog and RMON (link to wikipedia entries)