Challenges of Network and Voice Management
All computing — mainframe, client-server, distributed, grid, or web services computing — depends on the function of the network on which it resides. Today’s businesses recognize the dependence of business critical services, such as financial applications and voice, on the network infrastructure. If the infrastructure is down or slow, the resulting impact on business-critical applications and services, and the end users who rely on them, creates loss of revenue and productivity, while increasing costs. On average, Infonetics estimates that infrastructure downtime and degradation costs enterprises up to 3.6% of revenue annually.
Evolution of the Network-to-Service Delivery Platform
Over the past couple of years, the nature of the network itself has changed, and this change has created significant implications for network management software and for the operations and IT team members who use it. Not long ago, the main function of the network was strictly maintaining data connectivity. Today, the network is considered to be more of a service delivery platform. The network supports real-time services such as Voice over IP (VoIP), IP Television (IPTV), and video teleconferencing, all of which have evolved from early adoption and are now approaching mainstream adoption. Enterprises are increasingly reliant on applications distributed over wide geographic areas to provide any-time access to employees, customers, and partners to accomplish critical business functions. Furthermore, the equipment comprising today’s networks is now embedded with services such as security, high availability, and storage, which were previously provided by infrastructures found outside of the network.
Impact on Network Operations Teams
The impact of this evolution on the roles and responsibilities of network operations teams has been significant. As companies rely on real-time services to improve revenue, raise productivity, and cut costs, any degradation in service has an immediate impact on customer satisfaction and the business.
Because the network is carrying applications that directly impact the company’s bottom line, the range of internal constituents who want to understand the performance of the network has expanded from technical groups to business-oriented, non-technical, line-of business managers. Network operations team members now have a whole new set of internal and external customers to whom they need to communicate their ability to meet service level commitments. Because this group is non-technical, they need to communicate with them in business terms, rather than technical terms.
Infonetics Research, The Cost of Enterprise Downtime, North America 2004.
http://www.infonetics.com. Used with permission.
In addition, because of the tight inter-dependence between the network infrastructure and the applications and services that are provided through it, network operations teams need to extend their oversight from purely network infrastructure to applications, voice, and other services as well. This extension requires a deeper understanding of new technologies formerly managed by other teams. The embedding of services into network equipment has also increased the range and complexity of devices that must be managed by the network teams, which further complicates their roles.
Impact on Network Management Software Requirements
The evolution of converged networks and network operations challenges requires management solutions able to maintain the connection between the business and both internal and external customers. Strategic use of network management capabilities can minimize potential accountability problems between network managers and application/IT managers. One group needs to account for network performance issues, while the other is responsible for the health of the applications deployed across the network and for satisfying internal customers through the application user experience.
The ability to provide a multitude of reports and statistics on network status is essential. However, simple and user-friendly network management tools — with high-level alert dashboards and features that enable users to drill down to application and network issues — are gaining acceptance and will ultimately be accounted for in the IT budget.
Converging networks in both enterprise and service providers will force network and IT managers to view network conditions on a per-application, per-flow basis. New opportunities are already in action in wireless local area network (WLAN) management, security management, VoIP management, and network configuration. Automation and visibility tools for managed service providers will be critical in offering services across multiple networks to multiple offices. This need is further amplified by the tightly knit supply chain within information networks and the increasing trend of distributed and mobile workforces. Operations teams charged with the responsibility to maintain converged networks face the following critical challenges:
Heterogeneous Networks Networks are now composed of a broad range of technologies and vendors, including data technologies like IP, ATM, FR, and broadband; as well as voice infrastructures comprised of both legacy TDM infrastructures, pure-play IPT infrastructures, and hybrid infrastructures. Most migration to VoIP occurs gradually; therefore, the need to simultaneously manage both legacy TDM and IP telephony environments still exists.
Scale Today’s voice and data infrastructures are vast and span wide geographic areas —across time zones, countries, and even continents. The management system must be able to scale to support these very large infrastructures and provide the required information to the operations teams, regardless of whether they are located centrally or regionally.
Required to Manage Data Infrastructures, Voice Infrastructures, and Critical Systems The management system must span domains to allow IT team members to smoothly manage technical domains which were previously managed as silos.
Required to Communicate QoS to a Variety of Constituents Operations teams need to be able to communicate to external customers through SLAs, and internal constituents through OLAs or less formal mechanisms. Therefore, management software must contain the intelligence and capabilities to do the following for both technical and businessminded audiences:
Assess the infrastructure’s ability to support the business.
Identify problems as they occur.
Pinpoint the source or cause of the problems.
In response to these trends, the worldwide network availability market is growing rapidly. Delivering effective network management software will provide organizations with the tools that they need to evolve into more efficient structures.