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Vendors bring network management under one roof

As corporate networks, and the traffic they carry, continue to grow in complexity, so does the need for management tools that combine hardware and application monitoring capabilities in the same package.

"Traditionally, network management tools have been very narrowly defined," explained Ivan Shefrin, founder of Response Networks, a US-based software maker. "You had one for managing your database, one for your routers, and another for your telecommunications circuits. Ultimately, corporate IT departments got overloaded with information. They would have 20 different screens to look at, and none of the data was tied together."

Aprisma Management Technologies recently announced its new Spectrum Application Manager tool. US-based Aprisma's entry-level offering, priced at US$530 (£370) per agent, enables IT staff to view the status of network hardware and applications such as e-mail and business software. The solution will work with Oracle, Microsoft SQL, and Apache software as well as several types of server metrics, including RAM and CPUs.

Network management kits such as Micromuse's Netcool and Hewlett-Packard's (HP's) OpenView have long allowed users to collect information about their IT infrastructure from several different angles, but Aprisma's offering widens the focus.

"Micromuse's solution doesn't monitor anything," said Corey Ferengul, an analyst at market research company Meta Group. "It just consolidates data; from applications, networks, telco equipment, everything. Aprisma's software doesn't just consolidate data; it also monitors all that stuff as well. It's the tool of origination."

To Ferengul, the integrated approach of overseeing both the infrastructure and applications is the new wave of network management.

"It's no longer just systems, networks or applications," he said. "The line has blurred drastically. People need a better integrated view of how these things play together in order to better identify where the problems, bottlenecks, and needs for improvement are."

"This is an evolving trend toward more intelligence in network management," added Dennis Drogseth, an analyst at research company Enterprise Management Associates. "The value of integrated network-management tools is strong in terms of return on investment and efficiencies. You get a first-pass look at where the problems are, and you can isolate them to a very specific degree. There are other efficiencies in terms of how you manage what you manage, for example, consoles, skill sets and flexibility."

Response Networks also recently unveiled its Web-based Pulsar xSP platform, which monitors availability and performance from the end-user's perspective. However, Pulsar xSP is aimed more at Web performance and e-business transactions.

Tivoli, Computer Associates, HP and BMC Software are widely considered to be the leaders in network management. But according to Ferengul, these vendors are responding to pressure for integrated management tools. For example, HP has widened its network management focus to include application-monitoring software, and BMC has done the opposite.

"Everybody's been rounding out their offerings to cover whatever they were missing, so that they all hit databases, applications, platforms, and networks," said Ferengul. He added that, while many companies are still organised in "silos," each with their own network administrators, the new tools will encourage use of the same data or tool set.

At this week's Tivoli user conference in San Francisco, company officials are expected to address network performance and availability issues as a key area of focus for the coming year.

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