Network Monitoring Systems (NMS) are powerful platforms that can deliver monitoring services at many levels if implemented correctly – potentially providing a competitive edge. IT and business leadership often expect to get some sort of silver-bullet when implementing these platforms that will enable uninterrupted service and performance to its end users and customers, alike. However, without an insight into the importance of the technology components required to provide these business services, these investments in NMS technologies can be wasted with little to no valuable results achieved. With this blog, we hope to tell you what an NMS can do for you and some of the nuances for a successful deployment.
Having just recently implemented a NMS within a large electric utility in the midwest (read about my non-traditional experience), it became evident that the business was largely concerned in three key areas: Assessment, Monitoring, and Performance:
- The process of appraising and evaluating IT systems against the organization, corporate, or business objectives
- Observing, detecting and recording the operation of IT systems or related components to determine if they are operating as required
- The effectiveness at which an IT system operates or achieves its intended purpose
Now we’ll tell you some recent advances in NMS solutions that can help you achieve the business objectives in each of these areas and some specific examples of where they apply.
With advancements in technology, Network Monitoring Systems (NMS) can not only monitor servers, networking equipment, and end user devices, they can also monitor business software (e.g. databases, email platforms, etc.) and business services (HTTP, FTP, VoIP, etc.). Some NMS can also be very granular; monitoring and assessing specific applications and websites such as, Skype, Microsoft Exchange, YouTube, etc. and their individual performance within the enterprise’s network. This visibility into the details of the IT environment allows an IT team to assess the current utilization of the systems to identify bottlenecks or possible problem areas that impact delivering business services.
Once the core components to delivering a key business service are understood, IT needs to go about the business of managing the components through active monitoring.
Monitoring has long been able to tell you what the current state of a system is, but with improved automation in monitoring, an NMS can enable support teams and enterprises to handle more complex systems more efficiently. A properly deployed NMS with the ability to automate workflows including alerting, log aggregation/analysis, and instant dashboards allows fewer people to work an issue and reduces the amount of investigation required if manual information gathering is necessary. This is where optimized IT organizations excel and are able to provide the hard evidence to the business.
In my past experience, this has been invaluable to the business and IT in deciphering root causes and open, accurate communications. For example, if an enterprise had a NMS in place and was experiencing an issue/outage with an application and/or system, they would be able to login to the NMS and not only decipher the root issue and correct it, but also provide that update and information to the business in a timely manner – in some cases they would also be able to see a trend and potentially get ahead of the issue/outage and prevent it all together. Some specific areas where these are beneficial is in determining the impact of a network link outage or the loss of a specific application server. Enterprises can also become more efficient and effective with this data by creating automation rules triggered by alerts and trends built into some of the newer Network Monitoring Systems.
After IT has been monitoring systems and reacting to what we see as it happens, they need to then look at maintaining performance by analyzing historical data.
IT infrastructure enhancements usually tend to be on the pricey side and often times it’s hard to justify those expenses to the business without solid evidence. Deploying an effective NMS within an enterprise could also help IT teams validate enhancements to their current infrastructure. This can be achieved with the dashboards and historical reports provided within most of the updated NMS packages in the market. These can point to correlations between times of degraded services experienced by end users/customers and actual Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on the equipment. These data points are critical for both re-active and pro-active maintenance that helps ensure a certain level of performance.
One of the most common examples I have come across is when an NMS is used to monitor the carrier network links between locations (i.e. WAN). This is not only extremely useful for IT teams for root cause analysis, but to also have insight into historical data and trends to predict the need for growth/enhancements. This becomes useful to the business by allowing IT to be proactive, especially where long lead times could mean degraded service for months (e.g. carrier circuits).
I know as you’re reading this it all sounds great, but you’re probably wondering what’s the catch here? The truth is, implementing and deploying these network monitoring systems can be somewhat time consuming as well as costly.
- It requires a special skill set to fine tune an NMS to an enterprise in order to reduce false positives and “noise” – no one loves having their inbox flooded with alerts that could have been eliminated due to fine tuning the NMS instead of using factory defaults.
- Fine tuning takes time to “burn in” the solutions and make adjustments in configurations that may even require some level of coding if automation is desired.
- Not investing the time in customizing a deployment for your environment will limit the value both IT and the business derive from the NMS.
- Depending on the IT footprint of the organization, initial licensing and maintenance cost could yield a longer return on investment than a smaller enterprise – these are all factors that play into the assessment phase of which NMS is best for your enterprise.
- Additionally, there are not only internally installed solutions, but hosted, cloud based solutions, that can be leveraged as well – think Capex vs OpEx. But that is a topic for another blog post.
Next time you have some time with the CIO, CTO, or IT director some questions to help determine if your enterprise could benefit from a NMS are:
- Does your IT department have monitoring tools in place that can provide business-focused metrics that helps asses the health of technology assets?
- How is your IT infrastructure currently running?
- Do users or customers complain about “slow internet” or “waiting forever”?
- Do you know your average utilization of your network links?
- Are your servers being over or underutilized?
- Does all of your networking equipment have the same start and run configurations?
- Does all your networking equipment have the same policies enabled and disabled?
- Do you have an IT Asset Management (ITAM) system in place?
- Do you receive redundant help desk tickets/issues?
The answers you get to some of these questions, even if they are “I don’t know”, indicate whether a NMS would be a benefit to the company at this time. Network Monitoring Systems can be timely to deploy and will have some level of initial capital expense (Capex) depending on the IT footprint of an enterprise. However, when implemented correctly, the metrics, automation, and insight that these tools can provide to not only the business, but IT as well could help employees become more efficient by maintaining a certain level of experience and standards to its customers.