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Contributing Writer

Backstage with Jim Metzler

Jan 19, 20044 mins
Data Center

Jim Metzler on the state of network management

Network World’s Technology Tour “Network Management: The New Business Focus” kicks off next month during a particularly challenging time for IT organizations. Critics have been vocal about IT needing to prove its worth and companies are demanding more from their IT pros. Tour keynoter Jim Metzler, vice president of Ashton, Metzler & Associates, says the key to proving IT’s worth lies in network management. He recently discussed the state of network management with Network World Events Editor Sandra Gittlen and offered his view of these challenges.

Do you agree with Nicholas Carr’s notion that “IT doesn’t matter”?

The title of Carr’s article is “IT Doesn’t Matter” [in the May 2003 Harvard Business Review]. However, that is not what he says in the story. He is quite clear that IT is critical to the operation of a company, just the same as electricity is critical to the operation of a company. Carr also says IT no longer can provide a sustainable competitive advantage. Hence, to Carr, IT is nothing more than a utility such as electricity and should be managed accordingly.

In many ways IT is a utility and needs to be run as one. That means driving up availability while simultaneously driving down the unit cost. Network management is absolutely critical to running IT this way. Better network management allows IT organizations to increase reliability through say better configuration and change management. It also allows IT organizations to lower the unit cost through better bandwidth optimization.

However, network management is also critical to using IT to add more business value. The easiest way to use IT to add business value is by the introduction of new technologies such as VoIP, wireless LANs and storage-area networks. For these technologies to cross the chasm to where they are mainstream, a number of changes have to occur. They must become more manageable.

Why is network management taking center stage now? What are the drivers in the industry forcing this change?

There are three drivers:

  • Do more with less. This has been the IT mantra of the last couple of years. This puts added pressure on IT organizations to use management functionality such as bandwidth optimization to squeeze out every bit of unnecessary cost.

  • Run the business on IT. Increasingly, companies run their businesses on their IT infrastructure. Wal-Mart is a great example. Wal-Mart is one of the largest companies in the world, yet because of an effective IT infrastructure it has one of the most effective and agile supply chains of any company in the world. To run your business on IT, that IT infrastructure needs to operate flawlessly.

  • Introduce new technologies. As mentioned, effective and easy network management is critical to the deployment of any new technology. Now, there are a number of new technologies slowly crossing that chasm. This includes VPNs, VoIP, WLANs, wireless WANs and SANs.

Network management is a broad term. How do you define it to help IT managers get their arms around what they should be focusing on?

Network management used to be totally distinct from server management, and nobody was responsible for applications management. Now that situation is changing.

We still have classic network management. It deals with issues such as configuration management, fault management and security. Ideally, it would do this from both a proactive and a reactive basis. The reality is that network management is almost always reactive.

At the same time, many IT organizations are now actively involved in what they call ‘applications management.’ Few people are truly managing at the applications level because of the lack of effective tools at that level.