Network management packages

Network management packages<@VM>These 14 products cover the range of network sizes

The right tools can help you keep tabs on even the most far-flung systems

By Barry Nance

Special to GCN

Networks come in all sizes, from those consisting of a single file server and a few office clients to enterprise operations with hundreds of network segments, thousands of file, Web and database servers and hundreds of thousands of clients.

Network management software follows suit, with a range of tools to help administrators manage such diverse tasks as troubleshooting failed devices, setting up user identifications, putting users in groups, monitoring server health, distributing server and client configurations, and keeping inventories of network resources.

Small networks don't need all these services, of course, but large ones need all the help they can get.

Network administrators can increase their productivity and efficiency by using network management products that automate many or all of the diverse tasks required of them. These tools increase network availability'that is, uptime'reliability and performance.

To catch your attention, the marketing departments of many vendors will, on the slightest of excuses, characterize their companies' products as network management tools. If software is in any way network-aware, server-based or capable of running on many clients at the same time, the vendor might add network management to the features claimed for the software.

This guide separates the wheat from the chaff by focusing on products that truly help automate network administrators' daily jobs.

I've included tools that display graphical maps of the network, discover and identify failing network devices, synchronize lists of authorized user IDs across servers, distribute software updates as well as server and client configurations, detect network intruders or keep track of the types and numbers of computers and network devices on the network. Single-purpose products that, for example, only monitor specific kinds of network devices, did not qualify for this guide.

Tips for buyers
'Get a management tool that has features, options and a level of complexity commensurate with the size of your network.

'If you have a choice, make sure your network devices are compatible with Simple Network Management Protocol.

'If your organization has a central help desk, consider a management tool that can issue and track trouble tickets.

'Use your management tools proactively and continuously to stay on top of your network's health and behavior. Don't expect to solve problems by running the tool only when problems occur.

'For all but the smallest of networks, consider a management tool that a network administrator can access from anywhere on the network.

Most of the tools listed here rely on the Simple Network Management Protocol to manage network devices. When a network management product transmits SNMP messages across the network, SNMP-aware computers and devices respond with information about themselves.

Depending on the type of request message the network management product transmits, the responses might contain identifying information about each responding device'such as device type and manufacturer name'statistics on the volume of network traffic the device has experienced, or the amount of time since the device was last reset or powered on.

Not all network devices are SNMP-aware. To save money, some manufacturers omit SNMP capabilities from their low-end, inexpensive hardware. In other devices, SNMP capabilities are present as an option that a network administrator or installer must turn on when adding the device to the network. To get the most from your network management tool, be sure you use it with SNMP-capable devices with the SNMP option turned on.

Besides using SNMP to discover network nodes, network management software can transmit Internet Control Message Protocol messages to specific IP addresses, pinging a TCP/IP device or client. The software receives less information in response to the ICMP message than it does from an SNMP reply, but at least the software is able to learn of the existence of the non-SNMP-aware device or client.

If the devices and clients use the Internet Packet Exchange protocol instead of TCP/IP, the software can transmit the IPX equivalent of an ICMP message to discover IPX devices and clients.

The network management software can store the information it gleans from SNMP polls, ICMP messages and IPX pings and use it to produce various levels of graphical network maps.

Be sure the network management product you're looking at supports the protocols your network predominantly uses.

Maintaining lists of users and the groups they belong to is another function network management software can automate. For networks with many file and database servers, the software can automatically distribute its lists to all the servers on the network. But it must be able to distinguish between Microsoft Corp. and Novell Inc. file servers and to recognize relational databases from Oracle Corp., Sybase Inc., Microsoft and IBM Corp. Each kind of file server and database server requires a different approach for maintaining user IDs and groups.

Make sure the network management software product you are considering can give you central maintenance of user IDs and groups for the kinds of file servers and database servers on your network. Also look for the product's ability to monitor the health of your network's servers.

Having the right application files in the right places on your file servers is crucial to getting the right results from each application. A network management product can check the versions and locations of files and can keep those files up-to-date on a schedule set by the network administrator. Your network management tool should offer automated file version checking and be able to update distributions.

Preventive medicine

The accompanying chart identifies 14 network management products. The most common platform for running the management tools is Microsoft Windows NT, but that doesn't mean the entire network must be NT. The other computers on the managed network can be running any operating system. Many of the products also run on Linux, IBM OS/2, and OS/400, and various flavors of Unix.

Remember that the key word in this category is management. Don't wait for a problem to surface before employing your tools; it's best to run them regularly to keep your network fit and in operation. Downtime is something everyone wants to avoid.

The chart contains typical or base pricing for each product, but be aware that each vendor tends to base the actual price on the size of the network, number of client computers, number of servers, the number of remote sites or network segments, or some combination of these factors.

Barry Nance, a computer analyst and consultant for 29 years, writes from Wethersfield, Conn., about information technology. E-mail him at [email protected].

Avesta Technologies Inc.
New York
Trinity 2.0.3Windows, UnixDiscovery, mapping, SNMP trap and alert display, fault determination$80,000 up
CoManage Corp.
Wexford, Pa.
Integrated Service Manager 1.0WindowsDevice discovery, provisioning, service profiling, fault monitoring, performance management$100,000 up
Computer Associates International Inc.
Islandia, N.Y.
Unicenter TNGWindows Unix, MVS, OS/400Network discovery and performance, events and status, network security, software distribution, network storage, network workload, help desk, change management$2,500 up
Compuware Corp.
Farmington Hills, Mich.
EcoScope 4.1 and EcoTools 7.1Win9x, NTFault determination, application traffic monitoring network$19,500 up for EcoScope; $695 premanaged server for Eco Tools
Hewlett-Packard Co.
Palo Alto, Calif.
OpenView Network Node Manager 6.1Windows, UnixNetwork device discovery, network mapping, network failure cause analysis, trend analysis $4,995 to 16,995
Intel Corp.
Santa Clara, Calif.
LANDesk Management Suite 6.3Windows, UnixInventory, software distribution$50 per node
Loran Technologies Inc.
Kinnetics Network Manager 3.0Hardware applianceDiscovery, mapping, fault finding, utilization trend analysis$31,050 for 500 devices; includes training
Lucent Technologies Inc.
Murray Hill, N.J.
VitalSuite 7.1WindowsNetwork connectivity montoring, network utilization trend analysis, application performance analysis$44,000 for unlimited servers, 100 desktops and 50 network devices
MediaHouse Software Inc.
Hull, Quebec
ipMonitor 6.0 WindowsSystem monitoring and alerts, failure recovery$350 up per license
Microsoft Corp.
Redmond, Wash.
Systems Management Server 2.0WindowsInventory, software distribution, user ID maintenance$48 per node
Netscout Systems Inc.
Chelmsford, Mass.
Netscout Manager Plus 5.7.2NT, UnixNetwork mapping, fault determination, utilization reports$8,995 up
Nortel Networks Inc.
Brampton, Ontario
Optivity NMS 9.0Windows, UnixFault management, provisioning, accounting, performance analysis, modeling, planning, reporting, access-level security$9,995 up
Novell Inc.
Provo, Utah
ManageWise 2.6Windows, NetWareInventory, software distribution, user ID maintenance$79 per node
Tivoli Systems Inc.
Austin, Texas
NetView 6.0Windows, Unix, MVS, OS/400, OS/2Discovery of TCP/IP networks, display of network topologies, correlation and management of events and SNMP traps, monitoring of network health, gathering of performance data$5,000 to $15,000


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