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What are Cisco's top network-management challenges?

Automation, better metrics top list of key user needs

By , Network World
September 03, 2008 12:35 PM ET

Network World - Network management has been a source of frustration for Cisco for years.

CEO John Chambers annually seems to lament the state of Cisco network management (compare LAN/WAN management tools) when he's asked where the company is most challenged or weakest from a product development and marketing aspect.

Perhaps it doesn't help that Cisco has acquired more than 125 companies since 1993. An acquisition binge at that pace will keep network management integration efforts continually on the back burner, a perpetual moving target. Indeed, as Cisco gets bigger through acquisition and market dominance, its network management fabric comes more and more unwoven.

"It's actually a good thing when network management is struggling, because it says that innovation is really happening at a fast rate," says Karen Sage, Cisco's director of product management for network management. "So, it's really a Catch-22. I don't know if you're ever going to have a single, shrink-wrapped 'Here's your network management' that can do every area and everything and all functions. As Cisco moves into higher layers of the protocol stack, that makes it even more challenging."

Unlike its intention to be No. 1 or No. 2 in each market where it participates, Cisco does not have the same ambitions for network management. It does not plan to develop a product to be a manager of managers or an all-encompassing enterprise-management system à la HP OpenView, IBM Tivoli or CA; rather, Cisco's myriad management tools are intended to be an enabler of those systems by sharing useful event, alarm and diagnostic data about the network infrastructure and networked applications.

"We're not there to establish a network management business by itself, a soup-to-nuts network-management system," Sage says. "Our play here really is an enabler. We also very much want to enable this ecosystem of partners. Because we're not in competition with them. That's a very different strategy from saying you're going to own this market.

"We're going to provide leadership capability but we're not going to be leaders, as in, this is a prime market for us," Sage continues. "We are trying to drive market penetration and enhanced business because of this. But are we separating it out to look at it as a market individually? No."

Sage says these are the top needs of Cisco customers in the network management realm:

* Service automation for deployment and tracking.

* Instrumentation for detailed and specific metrics for specific domains, so that customer experience can be measured. An example would be VoIP mean opinion scores.

* Openness, so Cisco management applications can interact with customers' homegrown tools and customers can monitor the Cisco component of, and role in, a larger network.

Users, analysts, consultants and third-party vendors have expanded on this wish list. Cisco Subnet blogger Michael Morris, a communications team lead and network architect at a $3 billion high-tech company says that as a Cisco customer, he would like to see a better user interface for Cisco IOS software.

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