Network device management systems: Simplifying the buying process

What you will learn from this tip: How the use of a spreadsheet can simplify the process of buying a network device management system.

Selecting a network device management system is a complex and daunting task – something in the realm of 'define the meaning of life in 25 words or less' type of task. But the benefit of centralized device management makes it worth the effort, and the process of purchasing a network device management system can be simplified by comparing an inventory of your network with the products you're considering.

Network device management systems offer an administrative approach to simplifying the management of

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heterogeneous network environments. Consider the complexities of most large enterprise networks. Many have one major network device vendor and various one-off device vendors. For example, a network may have a Cisco infrastructure, a Nortel VPN and Checkpoint firewalls. This is a common configuration in today's best-of-breed environments.

A network device management system speaks to many different devices, from different manufacturers, in a form factor that will reduce -- not add to -- a network administrator's workload. Typically, these central servers provide a standardized configuration and access control list, as well as a method for reporting on the current status of every device. Most network monitoring systems also provide rules to control operational priorities of the devices and tighten up overall security of the network infrastructure.

Choosing a network device management system can be accomplished successfully if you break the process down into manageable sections. Look at this as a project with various milestones or, in our case, selection criteria. I have attempted to create a catalog of selection criteria for you to build from. The Network Device System Analysis chart is by no means exhaustive, but it will set you on the road of successful vendor selection and implementation.

The best use of this checklist will be gained by knowing the various types of network devices you are trying to control, their respective manufacturer and associated operating system version. Use the Current Network Architecture table to take an inventory of your network.

You must know how these devices are deployed throughout your enterprise. Ideally, you should set up a small test network with the devices deployed in a similar fashion and a range of test scenarios with which to compare the vendors you invite. Don't forget to have your junior engineers participate in this testing scenario, as they will generally find usability issues that more senior staff may miss due to their experience.

Lastly, remember that it is your current architecture that should drive this decision and not the vendor with the best sales pitch. The overarching goal here is to reduce complexity and administrative time. Don't be drawn into the glitz of a high technology solution. Ask questions of the vendor and put their products through a rigorous test bed. Use the checklist as a starting point to drive your network from organized chaos to responsive support of your business.

  • Visit our network device management resource center for news, tips and expert advice.

    About the author
    Tom Bowers, CISSP, PMP and Certified Ethical Hacker is a technical editor for Information Security magazine and the manager of information security operations for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. He also owns Net4NZIX, a small consulting firm specializing in pen testing and computer forensics.

    This was first published in May 2005

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