Automated network-management tools to the rescue

Software and services aimed at helping in-house staff address management challenges

One of the fundamental challenges facing network professionals is balancing ongoing responsibilities with reacting to daily events. Many spend the bulk of their time putting out fires or responding to unanticipated business requirements -- often at the expense of dealing with the routine "care and feeding" of network operations.

A new generation of automated network-management software and services is helping in-house staff address this challenge. These let network professionals establish regular patch-management procedures to safeguard against escalating security threats; and create system-monitoring routines to identify load imbalances, which could cause service disruptions or performance problems. They also discover, inventory and track assets to make sure that hardware and software licenses are up-to-date and that problems can be resolved faster.

Veteran network-management professionals might ask what makes these new products and services so special, because plenty of network- and system-management (NSM) products and tools have performed such functions in the past. The difference is that the new software and services automate processes so network staffs don't have to initiate routine functions themselves.

An example of a software vendor offering this type of NSM automation is Kaseya. Kaseya's software lets network professionals create scripts that automate patch management, auditing and discovery, remote desktop monitoring and management, help desk and trouble ticketing, software deployment and systems management, network policy management, and backup and disaster recovery.

A growing array of software-as-a-service and managed-service alternatives also perform these functions so network professionals can focus on more important work. Just as business units are discovering the advantages of subscribing to software-as-a-service applications from such companies as Salesforce.com and NetSuite to replace outmoded legacy applications from companies like Oracle and SAP, network professionals are beginning to recognize the benefits of using hosted management services to help them overcome the costs and hassles of using traditional NSM products.

For instance, Everdream is selling desktop-management services via the software-as-a-service model. Everdream offers on-demand, desktop management services that help network professionals automate the mundane but necessary tasks of asset and patch management, software compliance reporting and uptime monitoring. Everdream's desktop management platform and user interface also integrate with Salesforce.com's service-desk and CRM products, a feature that lets organizations maintain a single customer database rather than separate systems.

Service-Now.com offers on-demand asset-, configuration-, change-, release-, incident- and problem-management services, along with a Web-based configuration management database that aligns with the Information Technology Infrastructure Library framework.

Triactive is offering a combination of software distribution, asset and patch management, and ongoing monitoring services.

Klir Technologies has borrowed a number of innovations from Web 2.0 pioneers and is developing a community of network professionals who use its on-demand network performance-management services. Those include a free, single-user analytics platform called Express. The service can be implemented quickly to monitor network devices in remote offices or centralized data centers from a simple and secure Web interface. It also uses historic data to perform trend analysis, and provides preformatted report templates that let users evaluate key performance indicators. Users also can share aggregate performance statistics, third-party information and best practices to optimize the performance of their networks and applications.

Unlike the others, Kaseya isn't offering its software as a service, but it is innovating in another way, developing its software into an ERP platform, named ITRP [IT resource planning], for the IT environment.

These developments can fuel a new era for network professionals by freeing them of their responsibilities' day-to-day chores so they can play a more important and valuable role in their organizations.

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Jeff Kaplan

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