Network Management Complexities From Afterthought to Key Topic

A little earlier, we compared network management to running a big party. This analogy is actually appropriate in more ways than one: When deciding to throw a party, no one thinks at first of the effort that goes into planning the party, the logistics, the cleanup—you think of the party itself and how much everyone will enjoy it. And certainly no one throws a party just for the sake of the work that it involves, but for the fun they expect out of it.

This is not unlike the situation with networking and network management. When you first set out to deploy a network, chances are, at the center of attention initially is the network itself and the communication services that it provides, not how to run it. Network management is little more than an afterthought at first. One thing is sure: No one deals with network management just for network management's sake.

However, as the complexity of your network increases, so does the relevance of network management. More devices are added. Different types of devices are introduced, and different versions of the same type of equipment start to appear. At the same time, more users get connected to the network and use an ever-greater variety of communication services. You will soon find that it is hard to keep up with all that. In fact, the number of new users to add and new services to introduce might start to outpace your capability to do so.

Eventually, things start to break—they are not supposed to, but once in a while, they do. Even worse, you don't even realize it initially until some of the users on your network start complaining. Now you are quickly starting to become really overwhelmed.

At the same time, your competition seems to have a better handle on their network. Their network is utilized better; they accomplish more with less. This helps keep their cost down, while yours is spinning out of control. They can turn up new services for their users faster and more quickly reap their benefits, while you have trouble just keeping things running as they are. Suddenly, it becomes strikingly clear to you that network management is much more than an afterthought. It is, in fact, the key topic. It is the difference between the network running you and you running the network, between failure and success, between tailgating with a six-pack in a parking lot (not that this wouldn't be some fun once in a while, too) and feasting at an elegant restaurant.

This is the type of experience for quite a few organizations that run networks. The sudden realization of its importance eventually moves network management to the center of attention as far as the communications infrastructure is concerned. At the same time, it becomes quickly clear that network management isn't really that trivial after all. Indeed, it comes with plenty of challenges that are interesting, exciting, and very rewarding to deal with. The sections that follow are intended to illustrate where some of those challenges lie. Developing a sense of those challenges is important for a number of reasons:

■ It implies a sense of what the underlying problem domain is all about. Therefore, it is an important prerequisite for its understanding.

■ It is a key to dealing with those challenges successfully. Challenges that are not recognized imply risks. Risks need to be dealt with because they have the nasty habit of sneaking up on you and jeopardizing your success if they are ignored. Recognizing a challenge is usually the first step in successfully dealing with it.

The following discussion makes no claim of completeness—in fact, it is highly likely that you will experience different network management challenges that pertain to your particular context. However, the examples are representative of what to expect and think about.

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