Automated troubleshooting

*Overhaul needed for managing the distributed enterprise

Many factors are intersecting to make branch-office management increasingly difficult. On the bright side, some vendors are focusing on making this challenge a bit easier.

First, let’s look at the figures. The number of branch offices is increasing by 11%, yet the average IT budget is increasing by only 4%. Companies typically have between five and seven networking devices at each branch location, and rarely are they all from the same vendors or following corporate standards. Nearly 60% of multi-location companies use MPLS to connect sites so they can deliver applications to their distributed employees. But these apps have different performance requirements. Finally, on average, only 18% of branch locations house IT staff members.

These facts all add up to an increasingly complex and dynamic IT infrastructure that a strapped IT staff must manage—usually remotely.

That’s why it’s important for companies to evaluate their management options much more carefully. I’m not suggesting there is a single product or even a combination of products that works well for everyone. But in recent months, I’ve talked to several companies that are focusing on improving this problem.

I’ll mention some of them here, but they are by no means the only ones focusing on improving management of distributed enterprises.

For example, several networking vendors are trying to reduce the actual number of devices companies must manage. Vendors such as Cisco, Juniper, Nortel, Packeteer, and others are combining multiple functions (switching/routing, security, voice, optimization) into a single device. The benefit? Less time spent installing, managing, and updating point products.

Additionally, vendors are making it easier to manage the remote office. Vendors such as Adder, Avocent, LANtronics, and Raritan provide out-of-band, KVM access to repair problems in a remote site even when the WAN link goes down. Without such products, it’s necessary to send an IT staff member out to the site or call a non-IT employee to try to resolve the outage.

Uplogix has perhaps the most innovative products for managing branch offices. Not only does it give out-of-band access to equipment at remote locations when the WAN link goes down, is lets IT staffs decide what repairs they can automate. The product runs through diagnostics in minutes to deliver the probable cause of the problem. This eliminates the need for human intervention, and makes it easier for a central staff to manage the remote sites.

Yes, it’s getting tougher to manage the distributed enterprise. But organizations will thrive if they employ strategic thinkers who seek out and evaluate unique products, and develop a consistent corporate standard for remote locations.

Editor's note: Starting Tuesday, Nov, 20, this newsletter will be renamed "Branch Office Best Practices Alert." Subscribers to the HTML version of this newsletter will notice some enhancements that will provide you with access to more resources relevant to branch office networking. You will still receive Robin Gareiss' analysis of this market, which you will be able to read in its entirety online at NetworkWorld.com, along with links to relevant news headlines of the day. We hope you enjoy the enhancements and we thank you for reading Network World newsletters.

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