Remote Monitoring (RMon) technology is making a quantum leap in usefulness. Simultaneously, the intranet explosion is stoking demand for the type of network management features offered by RMon.
It's a combination that promises to generate new revenues for resellers and systems integrators astute enough to spot the opportunity and nimble enough to pounce on it.
For some, it may translate into follow-on sales as network administrators use RMon-generated statistics to buttress their case for network upgrades.
Others are gearing up to mine profits from the trend via business units to address expected demand for RMon outsourcing and consulting services from end-user organisations.
But resellers seeking to capitalise on RMon's mounting popularity must negotiate a few hurdles, not least the cost of acquiring expertise in it.
What it is
Embedded in network devices or deployed in a stand-alone probe, RMon functions as a blend of LAN analyser, utilisation monitor and baselining tool.
A specification developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force to ease the burden of managing multiple network segments and remote sites from a central location, RMon is currently in the midst of a generation jump.
RMon1 proved a valuable extension to the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) for gathering management information on Ethernet and token ring networks. For administrators trying to keep tabs on activity across their LANs it offered an effective way of monitoring their network while keeping management traffic to a minimum.
But charting traffic flows was relatively simple in the days when users spent most of their time talking to their local file server. The monitoring process has become more complex when centralised intranet servers are accessed from all corners of an organisation.
Help is on the way thanks to next gen- eration RMon2 technology, which is starting to appear in stand-alone devices and embedded in products shipped by most of the leading network vendors including Cisco Systems, 3Com and Bay Networks.
Unlike RMon1's device-oriented packet capture and count approach, RMon2 moves above the data link layer to gather higher-level information. Also unlike RMon1, it isn't confined to a single LAN segment and it can provide end-to-end traffic statistics based on protocol types.
That helps managers pinpoint whether their e-mail users are tying up more network resources than their accounting package users or those doing file transfers.
When it comes to allocating resources effectively, it's vital knowledge in the era of enterprise-wide intranets and a major reason why organisations today are looking to RMon to help manage their networks.
RMon specialists agree that vendor organisations with RMon experience can expect to leverage sales with it.
Many end-user sites are looking for resellers to supply the RMon knowledge they lack.
"It's simple enough to install the RMon software and get the statistics," says Guy Jacobsen, a business development representative with Com Tech Communications. "The expertise lies in knowing what the information means."
Com Tech is among those moving to take advantage of the opportunity by offering an RMon consulting service to analyse data flows.
According to Bay Networks' systems engineer Leo Risbridger, "increasingly IS managers are getting into proactive management".
Rather than reacting to a crisis after the fact, they want to defuse it beforehand by studying monthly or weekly reports on the traffic flows around their networks.
In supplying those reports, RMon can also give them concrete evidence of longer-term network trends they need to justify network enhancements to their finance managers.
Stocking up on knowledge
RMon reports won't always show a purchase order as the best way out of a situation. They may trace an overloaded LAN segment to over-enthusiastic access of image-heavy Web pages rather than inadequate server resources. Even so, by solving the problem, end-user goodwill is generated that can translate into future sales.
The first wave of production shipments of RMon2 devices is upon us. Bay Networks has just released Pocket Probe, a product incorporating RMon1 and RMon2. More RMon2 shipments are expected in the July/August timeframe.
RMon2 will be playing a significant role in the network strategies of Australia's larger corporations within six to nine months, predicted David Gray, MD of Sydney company Technology, Tools and Testing.
Some are attempting to stock up on RMon expertise but "the degree of knowledge it requires is intense and once people are trained, it can be a challenge for an organisation to keep them", Gray noted.
That leaves the door open for specialist organisations such as his to go into a clients' network armed with a kitbag full of tools such as Solcom Systems' network management and monitoring products, Taking things a step further is Melbourne systems integrator International Networking Solutions (INS), which is about to launch its own monitoring and management tool, INS Enterprise Pro, in partnership with 3Com.
INS is getting serious signals from major end-user organisations in the finance and telecommunications sectors that they are interested in outsourcing their RMon needs, said INS network services director Garry Ganis.
"Interest in RMon and RMon2 devices is now mandatory because there has been a paradigm shift in network management," said Ganis, who is also Victorian president of the Network Professionals Association of Australia.
"The focus is moving from devices at the data link layer to what applications are doing to the network."
RMon2 is in tune with the new paradigm but box-dropping resellers coming fresh to RMon will be hard pressed to master it on short notice, he warned.
Joe Fernandez, a senior consultant in JNA's network services branch, agreed: "We definitely see RMon expertise as a strength for a reseller but it requires a heavy investment in expertise.
"When you get a fairly sophisticated tool like RMon, you need to plan for it and have the expertise that puts it in place and makes sure it is used effectively.
"RMon is nothing like Word or Excel where the average IT employee can become productive relatively quickly."