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The Return of the Network Manager

August 7th, 2006

It’s undeniable that certain careers have more kudos and glamour attached to them than others. Hollywood actor is a highly desirable career choice. Dustman less so. And now that computing is seen as a social force and creative environment in one, there is a definite cachet to working in IT.

But just like other professions, there is a certain hierarchy within the IT sector – one that is changing all the time. What was once dynamic, bleeding-edge work has become mundane, archaic and downright ordinary.

Which is exactly what has happened to network management. Not that long ago the brightest, most innovative thinkers went into network management. Now it’s just wallpaper – always there, but barely noticed. Now more ‘exciting’ technologies such as VoIP, web services, configuration management, and user provisioning take centre stage.

But the hierarchies are changing once more. Things that we take for granted assume critical importance when they are no longer available. Organisations don’t realise how much they rely upon the network until it fails. The current state of the phone lines suddenly becomes interesting when there’s no dial tone. Only when there is a threatened limit on supply do we realise how much water we need.

In the same way, companies are beginning to appreciate exactly how network-dependent these exciting, modern technologies are. As Dennis Drogseth of the analyst firm Enterprise Management Associates put it: “The network is an instrumented ocean upon which applications, systems, storage devices all float. It touches everything.”

VoIP is a classic example. Clearly using the same lines for both voice and data traffic will create extra stress on the network. But the difficulty is in establishing the exact nature of the potential problems. Organisations have to assess network capacity, and the likely effects of adding extra devices and bandwidth.

What is clear is that disrupted services to either voice or data are not going to be tolerated. If the user has to wait 30 seconds before hearing a dial tone, they will not be happy. Equally, if their internet-based applications are three times slower post-VoIP then questions will be asked. And if the user happens to be the CEO, a career in network management won’t be glamorous so much as very short.

Businesses need the necessary tools to understand what they have in terms of capacity and the people who can run them. Accurately assessing, in real time, how much extra bandwidth they require and how much headroom they have is critical. And they have to be able to do so on a permanent basis.

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