What does it mean to manage a network? In today’s world, network management is a marketing term used to target professionals aimed at network systems. To me, its much like using “Cloud”…. you ask 10 people, and you’ll get 10 different answers.
I’m going to attempt my thoughts and opinions on what Network Management really means.
To some, “Network Management” is just having the ability to remotely administer switches and routers. In that context, network management is localized to your ability to control a single entity. Others may think it is only SNMP gets and traps. This is what marketing has sold us. But “Network Management”, to me, is so much more.
Network Management skills is the ability to analyze and identify metrics in such a way to answer questions like, “When do I need to upgrade my WAN links”, “Are my switches performing efficiently and below thresholds”, and “Are my QoS configs doing what they are supposed to be doing”.
Full “Network Management” should be able to identify the categories defined as FCAPS:
- Fault Management – Identify and notify on faults and alarms. Possibly even build automation systems to alleviate or resolve those faults.
- Configuration Management – Maintain configurations. Could be as simple as plain text configs, to the advanced Versioning and Workflow
- Accounting – Tracking statistics for the possible billing or identifying usage of subsystems.
- Performance Management – Track how well things are performing, whether it’s processing, memory, or link performance.
- Security Management – This could be as simple as identifying and tracking logins, to advanced Intrusion Protection Systems.
Most systems that I’m aware of, usually cannot do them all from one application, and those that claim to, usually will sacrifice one to enhance the other. There are certain advantages to having a single system managing all aspects of your network. 1 single repository and reporting system makes it easy to maintain and use. It is up to you to identify which.
From what I can see, there is only one company that sponsors a “Network Management” certification. SolarWinds, I’m told, has a good, well-rounded certification. And while they claim that the majority of the certification is not based on their product, the name alone implies to employers of a ‘branded’ exam. Cisco had a certification once, but expired it in 2005. Still, it’s a good start, and am waiting on other vendors to create a more “standard” exam. It will be necessary as we see this convergence into network protocols, and the management of those systems will be increasingly critical.
I read once, “You cannot manage, what you cannot see”. Network management is not easy, but once you find the right systems to help you report and identify, it will certainly help. Once you have the right metrics, and events to correlate on, you’ll find you have more answers than questions. Now, when someone comes to you and say, “The network is slow”, you can now say with with an assured expression, “I know”.