Not-so-middling management needs

Network management across large agencies has received a lot of press in the past few years, but little has been said about the needs of smaller organizations.

The big boys have had help from end-to-end solutions such as Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OpenView and Computer Associates International Inc.'s Unicenter, but midsize agencies have had to struggle with one-dimensional products and limited, homegrown solutions.

That may be about to change. Increasing demand for data security and privacy, as well as a growing need to control administrative costs, has made small and midsize organizations more interested in better management strategies. And the trend for agencies to merge stove.piped departments into information technology enterprise architectures has made midlevel organizations more attractive entry points for building integrated enterprises.

That doesn't mean that midsize organizations are just shrunken clones of bigger agencies. Although their requirements for network and local-area network management features might be similar, they occupy a much different world in terms of budgets and technical resources. The trick for vendors is to provide solutions that are complete but easy to handle.

"Tools have to be priced right, though that's not the major issue," said Valerie O'Connell, managing director of the Aber.deen Group's enterprise systems management practice. "Ease of use is the absolute cost of entry into this midsize market."

Measuring the Costs

However, in some ways, price and ease of use can be the same thing. There's the upfront cost of the product — the sticker price. But the total cost of the product depends on the manpower required to deploy and maintain it. For large organizations with sizable IT staffs, that's not such a burden, but for smaller outfits with a handful of people running everything, that's a problem. The cost of the hardware also can be a problem.

Because of the limits on resources, selling to midsize organizations "is by and large a shrink-wrap type of affair," said Floyd Roberts, chief executive officer of Breakout Software, which sells MonitorIT, a product that provides "proactive monitoring and analysis" of servers, workstations and devices on networks. "It's aimed at the network manager or the [information systems] manager to give them another tool in their arsenal for streamlining things."

That limit on resources also puts a premium on products that not only can identify where problems on the network occur, but can also give some way of fixing them, said Brian Collins, product manager for Heroix Corp. Larger organizations with big IT staffs need a broad overview of the network, but smaller organizations need a more "granular" view that shows what is going on with a particular server or other device.

Heroix's eQManagement Suite — a multiplatform solution that manages across Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT/2000, Unix, Linux, Open VMS and other operating systems — supplies that kind of view by placing agents on each network device to be managed, Collins said. That local intelligence collects data on the device and sends a flag when problems occur and can even be used to correct some problems without human intervention.

"Ultimately, in smaller organizations, people clearly need the ability to quickly identify where the problems are and to fix them," Collins said. "This provides one view of the overall network at a very high level of detail, and increasingly, that's what people are looking [to management products] to do."

That ability to create a single view of heterogeneous networks, which even in midlevel agencies are a complex mix of new and legacy systems, has become a definite requirement. Federal systems integrator Jaycor found it a necessity when selling solutions such as its Multi-Domain Security Solution.

MDSS combines segregated, classified networks into a single secure infrastructure while separately managing unclassified networks. Jaycor passed over network management tools such as OpenView because they use different manufacturers' products, each of which give a different view of the network, said Jeff Hewitt, director of the engineering and development division at Jaycor.

"Another consideration is how well these network management products integrate with other products that are used to manage security and others things," Hewitt said, "and that goes to the question of interoperability."

Jaycor officials eventually chose Aprisma's Spectrum as the standard network management product to offer with the company's solutions because they considered it a good blend of an easy-to-learn product that also provides that increasingly important single view.

Scaling Down

Aprisma is one company in a growing group that started big but now also targets midsize organizations. However, Trent Waterhouse, Aprisma's director of product marketing, was quick to point out that that doesn't mean vendors can get away with offering "stripped down" versions of their higher-end products.

An established provider of network management tools to large enterprise organizations and service providers, Aprisma recently introduced Spectrum xsight as its bid for the midsize market.

Spectrum xsight includes many of the features of Aprisma's enterprise-level solution, Waterhouse said, though packaged for smaller organizations. It's licensed for only one copy of xsight per server, for example, and is not intended for a distributed environment. So, although the company claims xsight can manage an unlimited number of devices, server processing power will max out at some point as the number of devices increases and more in-depth device management is required.

At the point when an organization needs to upgrade from xsight to Aprisma's Spectrum integrity enterprise solution, Waterhouse said, it simply needs to install a software "key" to convert from the already installed Spectrum xsight.

Spectrum integrity pricing starts at $75,000, with expanded licenses available in increments of 50, 100 and 250. Spectrum xsight is expected to be available by the end of January, at which time the company will also announce its pricing for the mid-tier product.

Computer Associates, whose Unicenter product is a major player in the large enterprise management market, has also restructured its offerings to meet the needs of the midsize market. In July 2001, the company introduced a "modular" version of Unicenter made up of four pieces that separately address issues such as network and system monitoring, performance management and service-level management.

"Small and medium organizations just don't have the money to pay for the kinds of monolithic solutions that the large, centralized organizations would buy," said Prabhakara Bhat, a Computer Associates product manager. "Now they can start with what their immediate needs are and tie those solutions together with other services over time, as the need arises."

Despite all of the activity, network management for midsize organizations will be a difficult sell for some time.

"It's still very much a frontier market," said Jaycor's Hewitt, "and agencies will have to be educated about what these products can do for them and how they can meet their requirements."

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

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At a Glance

Select low-end network management products

* MonitorIT from Breakout Software: Designed as a low-cost, easy-to-use management package. Pricing starts at $450 for a MonitorIT server and 10 licenses.

* eQManagement Suite from Heroix Corp.: Uses management agents to monitor network devices, which is intended to reduce the workload for small management staffs.

* Spectrum xsight from Aprisma: Has many of the same features as the enterprise product, but packaged and priced for customers who need a single server license.

* Unicenter from Computer Associates International Inc.: Modular design of Version 3.0 allows customers to pick the technology most appropriate to their organizations.

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