What Ever Happened to Network Management?

I’ve been doing network management for a long time. Old timers like me and John Willis remember when the “Big 4” not only made exciting products, they were the only game in town (although some will disagree with the “exciting products” bit)

Coté sent me a link today to an article entitled “What ever happened to network management?“. It was by Dennis Drogseth, a pretty respected analyst that I happened to meet a couple of years back in those halcyon days where you could get a six-figure salary for spelling SNMP.

He starts off with a short history of the management marketplace circa 2000 and how most of those players have been acquired by larger companies such as EMC, CA and IBM. To me the money quote was:

In many of these platforms, politics have gotten in the way of effective integration, leaving network management and its potentially transcendent technologies (analytics, discovery, etc.) in a virtual limbo between foundation and stepchild.

I used these products and can attest to the “political” aspect that is a large part of deploying them. This is not cheap software. I can remember one US$500K Concord deal for a national bank where it turned out that Concord’s Network Health was exactly the wrong solution, but no Director drops a half a million of corporate money and then admits he made a mistake.

I happen to know what happened to network management: it went open source. Network management at scale has always been such a complex problem that solutions were made up of a combination of software and consulting expertise. Consultants like myself want to do what’s best for our clients, and the politics of the commercial frameworks sometimes prevented that, or at least made our jobs harder. Open source offers us a plethora of software tools to use in our solutions. While I am partial to OpenNMS of course, if it doesn’t fit a particular environment another open source tool can be deployed. Without the huge licensing fees, a decision can be made with far less politics and far less heartache should it turn out to be the wrong one.

There is always the question of whether or not open source software is ready for the big time. I’m hoping that question is slowly being put to bed. When TechTarget interviewed 1300 of its readers and asked what management platform they used, the answer was OpenNMS, followed by products from HP and IBM. With OpenNMS, system management tools like Hyperic and configuration management from Ziptie providing real alternatives to expensive commercial solutions, the consultants who drove adoption of those solutions now have other options.

Dennis doesn’t mention open source at all in his article. Perhaps five years from now he’ll write an article entitled “What ever happened to closed source network management?”.