Configuration management for the battlefield

The Army deploys Netcordia's NetMRI configuration management software on its Warfighter Information Network-Tactical to help prevent network crashes in the battlefield

Network crashes are inconvenient
for any agency, but they
can mean the difference
between life and death for the
military.

'Minor network configuration
changes can have major
impacts to critical services
needed to enable communication
among warfighting units
and to move critical information
around the battlefield,'
said Joseph Forino, the
Army's product director for
network operations at Fort
Monmouth, N.J. The primary
reason networks go down is
because of configuration
changes, minor or major,
made by human operators.

To prevent that from happening
on the Warfighter Information
Network-Tactical (WIN-T),
the Army has deployed Net-
MRI from Netcordia, a network
management company
based in Annapolis, Md. NetMRI
monitors networks, detects
problems, informs users of operational
status, generates alerts
for problems and enables quick
network configuration and
reconfiguration.

Quality of service is also crucial
for WIN-T's voice-over-IP
network. 'With voice, people
are used to dial reliability,' said
Terry Slattery, founder and
CTO of Netcordia. 'You want
the same reliability in a data
network.'

NetMRI is a network appliance
that comes with an extensive
set of default network configurations
and best practices.
As a result, setup takes 30 minutes
or less, even when personnel
have little or no technical
training. The enterprise version
is a dual-processor, rack-mount
system that can support 200 to
2,000 network devices and
50,000 interfaces.

'Auditing is automatic,' Slattery
said. 'NetMRI goes out
and discovers what's on the network.'
This step, which uses
Simple Network Management
Protocol, could take a couple of
hours, depending on the size of
the network.

Next, NetMRI analyzes all the
device and configuration data
and assembles it into a graded,
top-level report of network
health. Operators access this
graphical network score card
via a Web browser. 'It's an aggregate
score for the whole network,'
said Greg O'Connell, vice
president of federal operations
at Netcordia. 'You can drill
down to see what the individual
issues are.'

Because network analysts can
quickly see the source of problems,
such as incorrect configurations,
they can spend time
correcting problems instead of
diagnosing them.

'NetMRI provides visibility of
call performance comparable to
that previously used in the tactical
circuit-switched environment,'
Forino said.

NetMRI manages VOIP telephony
services by analyzing
call detail records generated
by Cisco Systems' Call Manager
and Call Manager Express
products, both of which are
incorporated into the WIN-T architecture.

WIN-T network managers use
NetMRI's score card for quick
look assessment, with an overall
view of the health of the routing
and switching fabric in the expeditionary
enterprise network,
Forino said.

NetMRI can analyze numerous
network characteristics
through its database of industry
best practices, including IP addressing
and subnetting; virtual
local-area network configuration;
all aspects of routing; network
devices and interfaces; information
assurance events; and
quality of service, he added.

Netcordia is not without competitors.
Hewlett-Packard's Network
Node Manager, EMC's
Smarts and IBM's Micromuse
are the big players in configuration
management, said Evelyn
Hubbert, senior analyst of infrastructure
and operations at Forrester
Research. Small to midsize
players include Solar Winds
and Ipswitch.

Despite the competition, 'Netcordia
has a modular, simplified
solution that allows the user to
do network management and
configuration in a modular fashion.
It can do one pain point at
a time,' Hubbert said.

About the Author

Bridget Mintz Testa is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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