Technology is constantly expanding to bring automation and increased efficiency to more areas of a business all the time. In industrial sectors, networking equipment, which was previously thought of for the data center and wiring closet only, is moving into areas like power substations and factory floors.
The rise of specially designed industrial networking products (local area network switches, routers, and wireless products) means the network can now expand into harsh and remote environments and withstand extreme temperatures, vibration, dust, and other rugged conditions. Regular commercial-grade switches and routers can only function in climate-controlled data centers and wiring closets and are very sensitive to extreme temperatures or humidity. This new breed of industrial-grade networking products plays a key role in environments like power and energy, wind farms, military, water treatment, and maritime. The Smart Grid in particular has become a key application for industrial networking products. According to ARC Advisory Group, the industrial Ethernet market is growing at a rate of about 30 percent per year, and is projected to reach $955 million in 2011.
With industrial networking, power and cooling equipment can be connected directly to a network, rather than being monitored “in person” by someone walking through a facility. This level of automation helps to increase efficiency and reduce the chance of human error. And, the data gathered from a network-connected device can provide important information to help identify trends in power usage (or output) and “on-off” status (see figure 1). This can be monitored on a 24x7 basis through either a local area network (LAN) or from a long distance via a wide area network (WAN) with usage data captured on a continuous basis.
There are many benefits to having these data. Power use can be analyzed to determine peak (and off-peak) times and identify and eliminate energy waste, reducing overall energy consumption, and controlling costs. The data can be used for proactive capacity planning and can help determine the amount of back-up power (battery and/or generators) needed in a given environment.
In addition to data collection, facilities managers and network administrators can be automatically alerted to hardware or performance changes in (network-connected) power and cooling equipment early on to help prevent outages or downtime. Additionally, network devices can be monitored to track key hardware criteria such as temperature and the status of fans, power supplies. and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), and an alert or warning can be sent when a critical threshold level is approached or passed. The key to keeping up with these changes is monitoring and managing the network.
Today, a variety of network management tools are available to continually monitor the status of devices connected to a network, as well as the connections between devices and any changes that are made in the infrastructure. These network management tools, which are software based, can quickly discover all devices in a network and build a topological map showing devices and connections. This type of dynamic discovery and mapping is important in environments where changes are constantly being made, such as devices being added or removed from the network and/or changes in the network configuration (see figure 2).
However, the market includes a wide range of network management software products. When evaluating network management tools, there are a few things to look for and consider:
Automated layer 2/layer 3 discovery. Layer 2 network devices are ethernet switches; layer 3 devices are routers, which have more advanced control of network traffic and more security features. Layer 3 discovery identifies systems or network devices deployed in an infrastructure; layer 2 discovery uncovers port-to-port connectivity and interdependencies across all network devices and systems.
For those who are manually documenting the network and layer 2 connectivity, this can be tedious, time consuming, resource intensive, and is prone to human error. And this documentation gets more complicated if virtualization or wireless local area network (WLAN) technology is used in the environment. This is because one must manually go through router configurations, device logs, access points, etc., to try to fully understand how everything is connected (see figure 3). Plus, what can ensure that the connectivity and topology information that an IT team has manually gathered is complete and accurate, and it will remain up-to-date on an ongoing basis? A tool that automates layer 2/3 discovery can be a great help to accurately discover what is running in an infrastructure, as well as to know how the devices are connected, their locations and any interdependencies.
Tool that will discover both physical and virtual resources. Virtualization allows organizations to provision resources from servers, storage devices, networks, and event desktop computers into simulated or “virtual” resources rather than actual physical devices. Virtualization helps organizations use physical resources to their full capacity and allows other groups to have access to computing resources on a virtual level rather than buying their own servers or building separate networks.
The benefits include increased efficiency and reduced costs, and organizations of all sizes have embraced virtualization in recent years. At the 2010 Gartner IT Infrastructure Operations and Management Summit, a presentation on the state of virtualization reported that there are an estimated 10.8 million virtual machines, and this number is expected to grow to 58 million virtual machines by 2012.
While virtualization has clear benefits, it also creates a challenge for those who manage and monitor networks: including keeping up with changes made to physical networks and how those affect virtual networks and vice versa.
An integrated physical/virtual discovery engine that discovers physical to virtual machine (VM) associations can maintain an accurate view of physical to VM mapping at all times. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it reduces the risk of “virtual sprawl,” or the rapid proliferation of virtual servers, since the tool quickly visualizes the specific virtual machines running on any physical server. Second, having accurate physical to VM mapping information will greatly reduce the time spent on troubleshooting tasks. In a virtualized world, an organization could someday be dealing with hundreds of virtual machines and physical servers. Operating in the dark (without knowing what is running on a physical server) is time consuming and complex, making troubleshooting efforts much more difficult (and slower), and can severely increase MTTR (mean time to resolution).
- Automatically mapping, inventorying, and documenting of the network. Knowing what servers, systems, and network devices are running in a network and how everything is connected is a first step to success. However, incorporating configuration information, as well as inventorying different software assets, such as applications, operating system (OS) versions, warranty information, or security patches running on every piece of hardware takes discovery efforts one step further.
- Integrated discovery and performance monitoring tools. Once layer 2/3 information and asset inventory information are in place, network management tools with one-click integration can easily export device, system, and dependency information and monitor performance. It will save valuable time and simplify the management process. In addition, an infrastructure management framework should discover, map, monitor, and manage the network from a single console. This console should give visibility into network devices, servers, applications, virtual resources, port-to-port connectivity, and network traffic. The idea is to have a “dashboard view” of everything from one screen, rather than having to look at different screens.
Automated tedious IT management tasks. Network management software with automated discovery, monitoring, alerting, reporting, and recovery capabilities can reduce the burden of managing IT. After all, the purpose of a network management tool is to inform-in real-time-of failures and impending issues so that they can be fixed before they adversely affect the business.
In addition, a management tool that will offer automatic corrective actions to automatically fix problems without human intervention will save time and protect IT infrastructure. Another area to keep in mind when thinking about automation is configuration management. In an ever-changing network, establishing, fine tuning, and managing configuration changes is likely one of an organization’s biggest headaches. A network management tool that automates device configuration file backup, restore, storage, and change management processes-eliminating common manual and repetitive configuration tasks.
In all, as more “non-traditional” devices join a network, the more critical the network becomes to the overall operations and day-to-day functions of a business. Preserving network uptime, and having the network function at an optimal level, is now a key driver of business, and can lead to efficiency and cost savings that benefit an organization every day. In order to do this, select a network management tool that can help remove the complexity of monitoring and managing a network infrastructure to give you the information and control that you need.