CIO OUTLOOK

Enterprise network management is key

Mike Hale

At one time in the evolution of the public telephone system, planners thought they had hit a limit on the expansion of user devices. The critical element was human operators. Simple math showed that the system could not be scaled beyond its capacity to manually switch circuits. Of course, that hurdle was overcome by automated switching devices and the structured industry standards that are still in place today.

Information technology managers have a similar situation. Every time they add a new cluster of workstations or a new LAN, the scaling question arises. Managers must ask, 'Where is the additional technical staff to keep me up and running?'

When I look at the extraordinary surge of networked devices that IT managers in government must handle, I see a fundamental resource hurdle requiring automation and standards. Enterprise network management is the phrase administrators use to describe the products that enable large and manageable networks.

In most state and municipal governments you'll find a variety of network solutions. Often, each department or agency has implemented its own end-to-end network topology. And just as often, the result is incompatible support arrangements, redundant costs and staffing difficulties.

Costs of managing workstations also have varied significantly, depending on the software and standards used, help desk strategies and level of asset management. IT managers have taken this situation for granted, but if governments are to expand user access they cannot afford this view.

To support network growth, provide reliability and service levels, and stay within budget, something has to give.

In enterprise network management, a central network manager uses automated tools that can see through routers to remotely manage the servers, LANs and client machines. This setup yields savings and improvements in functionality. But organizational hurdles prevent implementing a true enterprise network management system. They include:

• No standard client workstation software. Agencies will need to establish client software standards to a degree never before considered feasible. Managers remotely monitoring every client would use the network to replace a client software suite that does not comply with agencywide or statewide standards.

• The variety of LAN and WAN management products. You must bring topologies, communications protocols, addressing standards, desktop management, security and network diagnostics under a standards umbrella.

• No vendor partners to guide development. Governments wishing to take the enterprise approach will need to surround themselves with strategic partners. Deep partnering is sure to challenge agencies' procurement policies.

If agencies want to fully exploit IT for delivering services to citizens, they must recognize the hodgepodge of end-to-end network solutions they now have and realize that they'll achieve opportunities for scalability only through committing to enterprise network management.

Mike Hale, a retired Army colonel, is chief information officer of Georgia. He previously was executive director of Florida's Information Resource Commission. His e-mail address is mhale@itpc.state.ga.us.

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