Management tools in demand at depressed networks show

The industry downturn was apparent at the Networks Telecom 2002 show at the NEC in Birmingham last week. Visitor and exhibitor...

The industry downturn was apparent at the Networks Telecom 2002 show at the NEC in Birmingham last week. Visitor and exhibitor numbers were down, as were the spirits of the staff on the Worldcom stand on the day news broke of the company's £2.5bn accounting fraud, writes Antony Adshead.

Having said that, it was not all doom and gloom. At the IT managers' question time the panel's main networking concern was how to get the most out of existing assets on a static budget. And, paradoxically, for many at the show this meant new business.

Dave Taylor, software products and service manager at Intel Landesk, said that although visitor numbers were down those that were coming were more focused and were spending money to save money. "Network management tools seem to be counter-cyclical to general trends - people are trying to do more with less. Making the most of existing networks and migrations in particular, such as Windows 2000, is driving demand for our management products," he said.

Network management tool suppliers shared this view. Ken Vanderweel, senior product marketing manager at Riversoft, said, "We serve many service providers who are out to recover revenues, save money and defer expenditure, but now we are finding that the enterprise is beginning to mirror the behaviour of the service provider, adapting techniques such as the use of SLAs when providing a 'service' to branch offices, for example."

Vanderweel highlighted the take up of more granular network management strategies. This was useful to the business where, for instance, an investment in a particular network strand had to be monitored.

For example, if a business had installed a VPN (virtual private network) with MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) - a way of discriminating between packets so that different types of traffic flows can be prioritised, such as storage data at specific times in the business week - it would need to ensure that its investment was not being eroded by overall network traffic.

Richard Bowen of Compuware said businesses were looking at capacity planning and change management. "A business should understand what it has in terms of network assets and how it is being used. If a business has outsourced its network provision, it should be monitoring service levels itself," he said.

Bowen was one of a number of people keen to inject some reality into the recent Voice over IP (VoIP) hype, saying he believed its use was largely limited to videoconferencing at present. Many at the show believed the technology is still at the early-adopter phase, despite recent high-profile implementations.

Richard Wilson of network solutions provider Topcall said, "There is a trend towards convergence of voice and data but it is five or six years off, unless you are setting up a greenfield site. People are not going to rip out a £500,000 PBX just to get into VoIP."

In such uncertain times, the general message from the show was to look to the present for networking and telecoms, but Taylor predicted a change on the horizon should Web services take off.

He painted a picture of operating systems and applications existing in a much more fragmented manner, as a service being delivered from multiple providers. "What would be the effect of this on network management suppliers and their products?" he asked. Where one comprehensive package of management tools has sufficed, perhaps products will have to be targeted at strands of the network.

Taylor said Intel Landesk has developers trying to work out the likely shape of the Web services world of IT and the company is modularising its products to suit new market realities. "What will the network management market look like in two years after the Web services explosion? It is the second time in a decade - the other being the transition from Netware to NT - that I haven't been able to see what is on the other side of the chasm," he said.

The overriding message from the show would seem to be: get the most out of your existing kit but be prepared for radical changes ahead.

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