Network management changing the course for 'framework' vendors

* What's a competitive posture in network management if you're a systems platform?

In planning for next year's research, it occurred to me once again that network management isn't what it used to be. That isn't to say that network management is less than what it was - but that it's different and that the differences between past and future are becoming more and more fundamental. And while I've written on this topic before in different ways, this year's outlook required a few gasps and head scratches more than in the past.

In this column, I've decided to look at network management from the perspective of the "platform" vendors (platforms that once might have been frameworks) and am including (alphabetically) BMC, CA, HP and IBM. Aside from all having letters in the first half of the alphabet, curiously, all these vendors have other things in common: they have significant investments in other management areas but have made clear and specific commitments to network management. They are also trying to reconcile network management investments and technologies within a broader management portfolio. This distinguishes them from other prominent network management vendors that are not, for instance, trying to do software distribution to the desktop, or offer in depth capabilities for systems management. As a group, these vendors are encountering a series of unique and often common challenges with somewhat shared grounds for confusion.

One of the most obvious places is in the area of mergers and acquisitions. CA's acquisition of Concord (which acquired Aprisma) and IBM's acquisition of Micromuse have led to fundamental changes to CA's and IBM's portfolios. BMC is looking to leverage Atrium and the CMDB as a way of integrating with network management solutions, and years before made an acquisition - Perform SA. However, CA and IBM are looking to leverage their network management investments more creatively, both for analytics and discovery and for service management capabilities.

HP has long been pervasive in network management, but in recent years has invested in network configuration management through its OEM with Voyence, in route analytics through its OEM with Packet Design, and is actively integrating Performance Insight (from a not so terribly old acquisition of Trinagy).

Having looked at the common issues and opportunities across this group, I'm going to present a few initial observations:

* Most of these vendors are still wrestling with a confusion in which traditional definitions of network management - as a separate market with solutions sold to separate buyers - is intermixed with a need to provide cohesive, integrated service management. The result is a mix of progressive decoupling of, for instance, extensible analytic capabilities, or discovery capabilities that can support asset management and CMDB initiatives, with fuzziness around market and product focus.

* As an example, none of these vendors have invested heavily in developing and marketing flow-based capabilities that capture traffic volumes and application patterns across the network.

* With the exception of HP, none of these vendors have made clear moves to invest in network configuration management capabilities.

* On the other hand, all of these vendors (in varying degrees) are aware of the relevance of network management to service management at a higher, more escalated level. IBM's recent service management initiative, for instance, has a strong Micromuse component, and CA's NetViz (from the Concord acquisition) shows strong potential as an enabler for integrating multivendor service and infrastructure management investments in support of BSM and SLM. Network management, after all, is where - like it or not - SLM began, and the natural ability of the network to provide an "integrated oceanic view" of service components isn't entirely lost on any of these vendors. But I would argue that it isn't entirely understood, yet, either.

* The whole notion that application management and network management represent two views of the same ocean is, as an extension of this, an area to watch. This is a complex question with many dimensions, and how these platform vendors work through this maze of opportunity and confusion - will become one of the most interesting (I hope) active areas of platform innovation over next five years.

There are, as always, political and cultural issues as well as technological ones in addressing this complex set of opportunities and challenges. And it's clear that in many instances, sub-groups within these larger companies are dictating what and where network management should go based on inherited areas of comfort rather than fresh eyes and ears open to a changing management universe. Still, there are plenty of signs of progress. Ten years ago network management would have been viewed as, simply, a separate market. Today, all of these vendors have taken several steps beyond this antiquated notion, and are beginning to leverage enabling technologies that will potentially support everything from a more evolved CMDB system to advanced service performance diagnostics.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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