A network management system (NMS) is an application or set of applications that lets network engineers manage a network's independent components inside a bigger network management framework and performs several key functions. An NMS identifies, configures, monitors, updates and troubleshoots network devices -- both wired and wireless -- in an enterprise network. A system management control application then displays the performance data collected from each network component, allowing network engineers to make changes as needed.
Network element vendors make their performance data available to NMS software either through APIs or through a protocol such as NetFlow, a de facto industry standard originally developed by Cisco that allows NetFlow-enabled routers to transmit traffic and performance information.
Network engineers use a network management system to handle a variety of operations, among them:
- Monitor performance: By collecting operating metrics through a series of physical taps, software agents or Simple Network Management Protocol interfaces, an NMS can provide the visibility necessary to determine if network elements are operating correctly.
- Detect devices: A network management system is used to detect devices on the network and to ensure the devices are recognized and configured correctly.
- Analyze performance: An NMS is used to track performance data indicators, including bandwidth utilization, packet loss, latency, availability and uptime of routers, switches and other network components.
- Enable notifications: In the event of a system disruption, an NMS will proactively alert administrators about any performance issues.
Types of network management systems
NMS software can be installed either on premises on a dedicated server and managed on site, or accessed as a service, where the vendor supplies the tools the enterprise uses to administer and monitor its network. NMS software can manage a wide variety of network components, manufactured by multiple vendors. Early versions of NMS software sometimes worked only with hardware manufactured by the same vendor, but those limitations have largely disappeared as networks have migrated to architectures based on equipment from multiple suppliers.
On-premises NMS installation can allow for better control and customization of the software to meet specific goals. Managing the software internally can require additional IT staff and resources, however, and as the software ages, it will be the company's responsibility to upgrade it or replace it. Vendor-based NMS can enable a quicker return on investment, but access to the software can be compromised in the event an outage occurs at the provider's data center.
NMS can be used to monitor both wired and wireless network elements. Historically, a separate NMS would be required for each. However, as wireless networking has become more prevalent, unified network management systems are now available that allow a network engineer to track both wired components and wireless network elements through a single management console.
NMS software can also allow companies to track performance throughout their own networks, as well as through external networks, such as those operated by cloud and as-a-service providers. Visibility is enabled through APIs and other means through which an enterprise can access performance flow data, or logs, to analyze security or performance.
As network hardware vendors continue to make their systems more open, NMS software is enabling interoperability as enterprises use network management systems tools to control and add features across a wider variety of devices. NMS is also serving as the framework for Intent-based networking, a developing methodology in which network oversight, configuration and troubleshooting is automated.
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