IT pros are finding that as networks grow in complexity, so does the maintenance and troubleshooting chores.
Adding to that diagnostic burden is the fact that networking technology is also evolving, with changes to the basic structure of the network and the ancillary support mechanisms as well. Take for example networking technologies such as SDN (software defined networks) or packet optimization technologies, both of which change how a technician interacts with the network. Those technologies (and many others) impact how traffic moves around the network and increases the challenges associated with network management.
That said, the best way to get a handle on complex networks is to use the appropriate tools and also - to know what to monitor, manage and control. Those considerations, along with some best practices, tips, tricks and knowledge should place an IT pro on the path to network management nirvana.
Perhaps, the best place to start is to figure out what exactly lives on the network and how it is attached. After all, many IT pros do come across devices, such as network printers, PCs and so on, which have mysterious origins – where the end user claims to not know who installed that device or how it even came to be in the building, yet they are using that device religiously to accomplish their daily chores. Simply put, getting a handle on the network inventory takes a bit more effort than updating a spreadsheet when the IT department makes a new purchase and installs a device.
That situation should lead IT pros to their first step in taming the networking beast – network inventory tools. To properly manage a network, IT professionals need to know what they have. There are a plethora of tools (some bundled with hardware, others available as freeware and some that are part of a suite) that perform an automated discovery of routers, switches, servers, security and other IP devices.
The information delivered by those tools can be used to map out the network’s IP environment, while creating an up-to-date inventory of all the elements that an IT pro needs to manage. Whether or not you run the tool manually or have it executed automatically is not as important as gathering the information in the first place. Once you have the initial information, you can decide on whether or not to automate the process.
IT works need to be aware that tools such as those can generate a lot of traffic and impact network performance, so when to run the tool may be an important choice based upon baseline results. However, in today's advanced IP networks, an automated tool is a more realistic option for most IT organizations.
Having an inventory is a great first step to achieving control over a boisterous network, yet it takes more than knowing what you own to gain control. Here is where proper configuration comes into play.
Perhaps more than any other technology area, network management technology needs to be configured to specifically address the needs of a particular environment. Most, if not all, network management tools do not work directly out of the box. Certain parameters must be set and thresholds defined, so that the devices you expect to manage are effectively monitored.
What’s more, the devices themselves may have to have configuration changes or patches or client software installed to enable the management product to work properly. Proper configuration of the tool and correct integration with network devices is critical for troubleshooting network problems – the network management tools themselves can gather information from device log files and via SNMP integration.
Simply put, network monitoring and management tools still require configuration to work in your environment. IT professionalsneed to take that very seriously, especially since misconfigured tools can create problems on the network, as well as mask what the actual problems are.
Frank J. OhlhorstFrank J. Ohlhorst is an award-winning technology journalist, professional speaker and IT business consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the technology market. He has written articles for a variety of technology and business publications, and he worked previously as executive technology editor at eWeek and director of the CRN Test Center.
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