Managing 21st Century Networks - A world of convergence
The Internet Protocol (IP) - used for transmitting data across networks everywhere - has moved beyond its origins. Once one of many, it has become a near standard for all types of computer communication. It is used pervasively, transmitting data to and from a multitude of devices ranging from those in our pockets to spacecraft circling distant planets. Arguably IP is the most successful open standard ever, but as network communications converge under a single standard used for an increasing number of applications, we need to understand how effectively these critical assets are being managed.
• IP is the de facto commercial standard for computer communication in Europe and is fast becoming so for other types of communication
100% of the IT and Communications Managers surveyed stated their main computer network was IP based, and the majority are using that network for internal and external telephony as well as video communication. This usage is widespread and not confined to niche areas.
• Network availability, security and performance are the most important things to monitor for effective network management
Monitoring availability, security and performance were rated ahead of accessibility issues. This is not surprising as good access to a poorly performing network is not much use.
• Managing network level functions like multi-protocol label switching (MPLS), quality of service (QoS) and IP Multicast were considered more important than managing actual applications
MPLS allows delivery of certain IP packets to be prioritised, thereby ensuring an acceptable QoS for users requiring high performance from specific applications, like voice. IP multicast conserves bandwidth and makes the network more efficient. If these functionalities are managed well, applications should take care of themselves.
• Managers were generally satisfied with their ability to manage these key network technologies, however, other network management activities fell short of expectation
In particular, managers felt that their current tools do not provide quick access to information about the cause or impact of problems. They felt they did not have the resources to proactively manage the network relative to the level of importance they placed on these activities. A similar gap exists in their ability to integrate network management with other management tools.
• Many businesses are using managed services to help overcome these deficiencies
Managed services are widely used for network security, and MPLS VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) in particular. Usage varies by country, uptake being greatest in France where the use of IP networking is at its most pervasive.
• Smaller businesses (1000-5000 employees) are ahead of larger businesses (5000+ employees) in the adoption of IP networking
Smaller businesses are less impacted by the politics of convergence. Their earlier adoption of IP networking has instilled confidence in their network management capabilities.
• IT Directors are more bullish about the use of IP than the managers reporting to them
Without the confidence of senior management it is unlikely that such key investments would have gone forward for board level approval.
CONCLUSION: Businesses are reliant on IP for the majority of their communications. Good management of IP based networks is one of the most critical tasks assigned to IT and Communications Departments The main drivers behind the adoption of IP as the single protocol of choice by business are ease of management, robustness and fact that it is the basis for the global communications network - the Internet. However, network failure can now mean a total communications failure; and business is vulnerable to wrong doers honing their skills on a single technology. Selecting the right tools to manage IP networks is a key decision for IT managers if they are to ensure the network is available and secure, whilst delivering high performance and efficiency.
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