Businesses are outsourcing nearly everything that they don't make or sell themselves. When it comes to network management many small companies baulk at hiring staff that earn more than the GNP of some eastern bloc countries. But they still need network management unless they are prepared to operate in crisis management mode - wait for a crisis and see if they can manage.
If you are a network reseller, then more than likely you've already been asked to assume some role in managing your clients' networks. This could be anything from being the last resort when things get too complicated for the in-house staff, to full-blown remote management. If the latter is your goal here's our take on the components that will give you a chance of success.
Customers expect desktop configuration, inventory, software distribution, and remote control to be handled for them. They'll want to know if their server is faulty or just not performing well. You'll need to know what is happening to their hub/switch/router stacks. You're going to need some tools, and you're going to have to install them on the client's network as well as on your own network.
You may have noticed that an awful lot of network gear has a monitoring port on the back panel. You can hook a modem up to this port and dial in to find out what the hub or router is up to. This starts to get tangled if your customer has half a dozen of these gadgets. You'd need as many modems and phone lines as there are devices. All is not lost. Western Telematic's family of NetReach products are used by network managers around the world to support their networks. They provide a low-cost alternative or a backup to SNMP by using secure dial-up access to their remote sites for power control, multi-port switching, alarm management and 10Base-T patch routing. Using simple commands, you can access remote equipment for configuration changes, power down locked-up equipment and even be paged if a piece of equipment fails. Visit them at www.westtel.com/netreach.htm for more information.
You've got chances
If you can talk to the network, you've got a shot at fixing it, but after getting access you'll want some good management tools to report on the state-of-play. A perennial favourite is Intel's LANdesk which just seems to get better and better. Although its primary emphasis is on management, Intel LANDesk Management Suite has features and functionality that provide benefits throughout the evolution of a PC's life cycle - from initial deployment through ongoing management and protection.
Intel LANDesk Management Suite integrates remote control, software distribution, software metering, hardware and software inventory, server monitoring and other full-featured tools into a single package. The advantage of LANdesk is that it will handle a variety of servers and operating systems. However, if your customer is a total Netware shop, Novell's own NMS products will handle everything nicely. Same goes for NT only shops - might as well stick with Microsoft's own SMS product to keep things under control.
If the customer has brand-name servers, it's likely that there are good management tools as part of the purchase. Compaq's Insight manager and Tricord's IMS spring to mind as tools that reveal a lot more about a server than you may be prepared to know, and they usually snap in to whatever higher level toolbox you are using. If the servers you're managing don't come with their own monitoring tools, LANdesk can usually ferret enough information out of them to let you know what's happening.
The Intel LANDesk family of management products provides comprehensive solutions to deploy, manage and protect PCs and servers on your network.
Grab onto tools such as Seagate's Desktop Management Suite (DMS) which centralises the management of distributed network desktops by automating tasks such as inventory, software distribution, application metering, backup and remote control. DMS and its components provide an integrated suite solution as well as modules available separately and powerful enough to stand on their own. DMS uses industry-standard databases, is compatible with all major network and desktop operating systems and plugs into Microsoft SMS, CA-Unicenter and other management platforms. The inventory module is almost worth the price of the whole package, since it lets you know what has been added and what has changed on the network - that's even more important if you're collecting fees for service based on the number of managed computers.
When it comes to finding out what is going on outside the servers and PCs you'll want to be able to access something like Bay Network's Optivity or Cisco's Cisco Works. Don't forget that these tools make good sense in any network - remotely managed or not - but they'll really earn their keep by letting you know what is happening without travelling. In many cases you can also fix things without travelling as well, or at least arrive armed with a solution to the problem if you do have to go onsite.
The Optivity family comprises a number of applications, logically connected to provide full-featured management for any network environment. Based on industry standards such as SNMP, Rmon, and Rmon2, as well as the innovative multilayer topology capability, Optivity delivers an open solution for monitoring and controlling multivendor enterprise internetworks from a single management station.
The Windows-based Optivity Workgroup, including the EZ LAN and EZ Internetwork applications, delivers simple, intuitive management for small, routed departmental networks or workgroups within larger enterprise networks. Optivity Campus offers Windows-based solutions for mid-sized LANs and internetworks supporting from 250 to 2000 devices.
For large, widespread internetworks, Optivity Enterprise - including Optivity LAN, Optivity Internetwork, Optivity Analysis, and Optivity Planning - leverages the powerful Unix computing platform to provide a comprehensive management solution. Individually, each piece addresses a specific application: Optivity LAN for monitoring, configuring, and troubleshooting hubs, switches, and local area networks; Optivity Internetwork for routers, WANs, and internetworks; and Optivity Analysis and Optivity Planning for network analysis, trending, and design. Together, the applications blend their strengths to create a single, integrated management solution that delivers unprecedented control over the enterprise.
CiscoWorks Windows is a comprehensive suite of integrated network management tools designed to simplify the administration and maintenance of small to medium business networks or workgroups comprised. CiscoWorks Windows provides a powerful set of configuration, monitoring and diagnostic applications that complement the capabilities of Cisco Systems' internetworking products (switches, routers, hubs, and access servers).
CiscoWorks Windows is based on the SNMP industry standard and can manage any networked SNMP-based device. CiscoWorks Windows provides a comprehensive, easy to use network management solution that seamlessly integrates with CastleRock Computing's SNMPc and Hewlett-Packard's OpenView for Windows. CiscoWorks Windows will also leverage your investment in software and manage Cisco devices when installed to complement any third-party network management platform.
Don't forget that your remote customers need some way of letting you know when they need you. The best way to make that happen is by installing some Help Desk software. You can set this up so that the customer rings you, and you track things, or you can set it up so that the customer has their own help desk, which lets them solve quite a few of the easy problems themselves, then their help desk calls yours when things require expert attention.
Help Desk Systems has recently changed the name of their product to Infra Help.
Lending a hand
Infra-Help provides an enterprise-wide customer service and support centre solution. Infra-Help offers extensive configurability to cater for a wide variety of support centres and their business activities. Client sites range from small internal help desks through to large corporate support centres operating nationally and world-wide. The technology is used for everything from classic Hotline support, general customer and asset management.
Increasingly, help desk software and network management software can be accessed via the Internet. You can set up virtual private networks over the Internet to make sure that the whole world isn't helping to manage your client's network, but you should maintain some dedicated real telephone lines that will let you in when everything else seems to have stopped. Remote management of your own or someone else's network is not only possible, it can be damn profitable. You'll find that if you go through the exercise of designing a site for remote management, that you'll also have designed a site that can be well managed without being remote. Think about what you left out of your last network design that could have earned you some valuable kudos as well as cash, whether it's managed remotely or remotely managed.