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FOCUS - New Evolution in Network Management Systems
by Richard Fullerton, Newpoint Technologies

Since the inception of device management systems, network operators wish to see the concept through to its ultimate end — a single console providing end to end control of the disparate equipment and subsystems comprising a modern communications network. Initially, divergent hardware protocols made this impossible. Serial equipment was managed by a completely different set of outboard hardware than contact closure devices. This gap was closed at the close of the last decade when intelligent controllers allowed you to use a single solution for managing the serial as well as contact closures. Such an example would be Newpoint’s Mercury Element Manager.

The advent of Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) promised a future where all equipment would share a common interface using standard Ethernet connections. Such would make the writing of formal device drivers and creating custom communications cables obsolete. As important as an advance this was, the practical applications were limited initially, as replacing equipment for the sake of management capability was cost prohibitive and impractical. Well-respected programs such as HP Openview, NetCool and NetBoss have no native capacity to communicate with non-SNMP equipment. The creators of satellite network management software had to fill the gap. The core technology underlying device management systems uses IP sockets to transport information to and from a piece of equipment. To define a socket that would communicate over IP with a SNMP device or system was a simple exercise. The killer application of this technological advance was the ability to communicate with entire subsystems — the Manager of Managers (MoM) concept was born.

MoM offers big advantages in cost effectiveness, scalability, and life cycle. Businesses that have significant investments in management software technology running across diverse systems can simply point a SNMP feed to a MoM, such as Compass, and enjoy a fully featured web-based, GUI, such as Newpoint’s True North. There’s no need to reintegrate their equipment, change server architecture, or engage in the costly rewiring of equipment to the new software.

This also holds true for companies who have been reliant upon vendors who are suddenly out of business, or simply unwilling to ensure their products are up to date. Existing subsystems with their own SNMP stream, such as a Nokia telecom switching system for example, can be integrated directly into Compass without any other intervention. other than an Ethernet connection to the host.

But what if the information is not available from these applications via SNMP? The Compass software APIs easily allow you to communicate with these systems using their native protocol language over the Ethernet network, providing full integration of your SNMP and the proprietary and Ethernet enabled management software applications.

There may also be Alarm Managers in place (such as NetCool or other business applications). Compass can bundle all of the non-native devices (i.e., parallel facilities management gear, or serial devices) and send/receive a SNMP communications string for command and status relay. The operator receives all systems information from a single source. Compass seamlessly functions as middleware between these applications and the equipment.

It gets even better — scripting tools can be used with Compass’ database structure to manage equipment and subsystems directly as well as define their functions in harmony with one another. Service Level Agreements can be measured. Circuits can be provisioned. Services can be prioritized. Corrective actions can be triggered or suppressed. Insight into the entire network gathers a powerful range of knowledge that can be acted upon from a single nerve center. MoM technology offers an opportunity to have central control of your entire network and to receive the benefits derived from its operation. NMS systems can now draw upon standalone components across different business areas and function as true enterprise software.

Once the device or system information is captured, the Compass engine can act upon the data. Scripts to automate system responses to specific sets of faults or conditions are created to maintain key services online, manage redundant equipment, or initiate scheduled communications packages or maintenance windows. Messaging via telephone, SMS page, or onscreen popup, alerts key personnel to the status of specific equipment or processes monitored by Compass.

Compass database replication makes it possible to eliminate single points of failure by allowing redundant servers to contain duplicate system architecture, recognize any primary server failure, and promote a backup server to control the entire system. The system is scalable by definition, as additional interfaces to systems or devices can be added or deleted at will, without requiring additional software or licensing.

Beyond functioning as an aggregator of information, a MoM can distribute information to other business logic systems. Alarm information can be sent to a trouble ticketing package such as Remedy, environmental data to a security management software system, and so on. This is accomplished by populating a SQL database or by using an XML interface connected to the Compass engine.

Compass can also draw information from these sources and use its scripting engine to write business logic rules into the system. As a result, Service Level Agreements can be monitored and actions taken to maintain services, and prioritize the most important customers to ensure optimal use of equipment.

Similarly, the information captured by Compass is capable of being correlated — specific network situations can have predetermined responses built in to the system. This can be established as a decision tree to ensure accurate actions are taken in the correct order.

In a rain fade example, attenuation may be modified to boost output to overcome the disturbance. After performing the action, the scripts check to determine if, in fact, the network conditions are now in an acceptable range. If so, an SMS is sent notifying key personnel of the activity. If not, the script will try again for a set number of times. In the event that power is still not in the acceptable range, diversity switching may be initiated to move the entire service to another site, and a notification sent.

The implications of this technology are far reaching. Labor savings can be realized by automating and integrating systems and responses that previously required operator intervention. Human error is minimized, as the automated scripts perform the appropriate actions faster, and in the correct order, each time, all the while testing to ensure the network is in the correct state before moving on to the next test.

All of the information is now displayed on a single console. This reduces training costs as operators need to learn only one software package. Executive dashboarding of multiple system status is possible using the onboard report generation tools, which eliminates the need to produce information from individual systems. Trouble ticketing is now centralized and can be automated as well. Aged faults may generate a priority message to a manager. Specific customer impacts can be forwarded to the appropriate account executive, allowing proactive action.

In short, the MoM concept provides network operators with the ability to manage their system from end to end. This creates economies of scale by placing fault management, service provisioning, scheduling, and asset management and control, on a single platform. MoM knows best!

About the author
Richard Fullerton is the Director of Business Development – Europe for Newpoint Technologies, Inc, a wholly owned subsidiary of Integral Systems. The Company provides Satellite Command and Control, Network Management, and Carrier Management software solutions to the satcom and broadcast marketplaces. Richard has over a decade of experience in network engineering all over the world. Prior to joining Newpoint in 2008, Richard was with Datapath Inc., formerly Industrial Logic Controls (ILC), as the International Accounts Executive responsible for global install base sales and driving new business in Latin America. He also has extensive experience as a project manager, systems/consulting engineer, and as a training manager.