How to find the best network management tools today

Finding the best network management tools today can be a challenge. Here's guidance on how to proceed.

Enterprise network management can be a high-wire act: IT must meet soaring end-user expectations for exceptional service quality but to do so requires clear visibility into traffic as it travels across increasingly complex networks. Quite a challenge. These infrastructures, literal and figurative backbones of enterprise operations today, are now a mix of wired and wireless networks, with end users connecting from a host of devices, both personally owned and corporate-issued.

Traditionally, IT separated tools to manage the discrete wireless and wired elements of their networks. However, as these formerly separate elements have become more integrated over time, end users have come to expect all enterprise assets to work together seamlessly so that they can access whatever resources they need quickly and reliably. Separate management consoles don't provide the kind of holistic view and the level of immediacy IT needs to identify potential bottlenecks or find the source of other issues. Today the effectiveness of enterprise network management is measured by whether IT can guarantee end users have fast, reliable and secure access to the business resources they need to do their jobs successfully. And in the era where online all the time is the rule, end users have zero tolerance for downtime.

A better view

To support a more comprehensive end-to-end approach, enterprises are pushing for management tools to monitor and administer equipment from multiple vendors—including controllers and endpoint devices that previously were not part of the network management picture. At the same time they need tools that provide visibility and control across both wireless and wired segments of their infrastructures. So, how to find the best network management tools today?

A number of vendors, including networking equipment suppliers Aerohive Networks, Cisco, Enterasys Networks, HP, Huawei and Xirrus Wi-Fi Networks, and enterprise management companies like CA Technologies and SolarWinds, tout their unified network management products as providing consolidated monitoring and control for both wireless and wired equipment.

While some of these tools offer a more accurate picture of the conditions across their entire network topology, there is still a long way for most to go before they can be categorized as offering truly unified network management. Not surprisingly, vendors offer a greater degree of control and more sophisticated management capabilities for their own equipment. This includes, when it comes to tracking and managing for instance, everything from more automated configuration to advanced diagnostics and better reporting.

In perspective

Most tools still have quite a distance to travel, and a number of features and functions to add -- like better support for third-party gear and more visibility across the entire infrastructure -- before they can really qualify as a means for delivering truly unified network management. For now, finding the best network management tools is best done by first recognizing the limitations (from a monitoring perspective) of vendor-specific tools. Networking professionals should prioritize in their enterprise budget the acquisition of products and technologies that can help derive the best performance from the enterprise 's end-to-end infrastructure.

Next Steps

The new year will introduce new network management products that enterprises can use to make their networks more proactive, a leading analyst predicts.


This was last published in September 2015

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