The Creeping Terror
The following is a guest blog from Shamus McGillicuddy, Sr. Analyst Network Management at Enterprise Management Associates.
How many management tools do you use to measure bandwidth utilization trends? How many tools do you use to correlate a bad interface on a switch with an application performance problem? If you answered “one” to either of those questions, congratulations. You are ahead of the crowd.
In truth, many network managers use two or three different network management tools to perform operational tasks on a daily basis, whether those tasks are as straightforward as capacity management or as complex as troubleshooting. ENTERPRISE MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATES® (EMA™) research has found that the typical large enterprise has six to ten different network management tools in active use, with some reporting as many as 25 tools. These numbers don’t even account for tools that are procured but unused, so-called “shelfware” that has been rejected by practitioners.
If you are one of those networking pros who use a multitude of tools, you have likely adapted. Switching from one tool to another and then to another may be second nature by now. You are getting the job done, but you could be doing so much better.
It is simply inefficient to use so many management systems. First there is the time you have to spend learning how to use each tool plus the time you need to spend maintaining them all. Then there is the issue of inefficient and ineffective workflows. When you swivel your chair to go from one tool to the next, you have to correlate what you found in the previous tool with what you find in the next tool, and so on. The time spent on that swivel action adds up over time. And tiny details fall through the cracks.
Networking pros should start thinking about ways to counter tool creep. Part of the problem stems from a reliance on too many free and open source tools. Another issue might be that your team only uses a portion of each tool installed. Think strategically about the tools you use, from planning and engineering to monitoring and troubleshooting. Is there a lot of overlap in the functionalities of the various tools you have in place? When the time comes to refresh some tools, think about ways that you can consolidate.
Many infrastructure management vendors offer products with a multitude of different functions. When you evaluate these products, evaluate all those capabilities, not just the ones you currently need. You may find that the product can replace more than one tool in your environment. And think about how well the vendor has integrated those capabilities.
SevOne, for instance, positions itself as an infrastructure performance management vendor. But when you look under the hood, you see a lot more than that. SevOne offers three infrastructure management functions that are tightly integrated into a single product. First, it offers a network performance and availability management system that tracks the health and performance of your network, applications, servers, and storage by collecting metrics via SNMP, JMX, WMI, and other methods. Second, it offers a network flow collection and analytics system that that collects NetFlow, jFlow, IPFIX and other flow records to analyze overall network performance. And finally, it offers a log analytics tool that performs targeted searches of log data to identify machine-based events. SevOne has devoted significant effort to integrating these three functions into a single workflow where analysis of device metrics, flow data, and logs are correlated in a single console for network and IT teams. Rather than clicking between three separate tools, you can see logical correlations between the three data types. Metric and network data can help you narrow your search of log data for the source of an issue. This is an example of a tool that consolidates operations and helps you be more efficient and effective.
Be vigilant about the network management tools you use. Spend your money wisely on tools that consolidate and streamline your tasks. And if you are using free and open source tools, look at ones that can do more than one thing. Integrate your tools where you can. Ask your vendors whether they can help you with this. If you have a network change and configuration management (NCCM) system, for instance, look for opportunities to integrate it with your network performance management system. If a configuration change affects the performance of your network, it sure would be nice to have a performance management tool that can alert you to that right away by making an API call to your NCCM. Every step you take toward consolidating your management systems will open up more hours in your day to deliver value to your company—and earn you a raise.
[Editor's Note] For advice on how to make the business case to consolidate monitoring tools, check out SevOne’s new whitepaper.