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The network management field is dominated by the Big Four: Computer Associates, IBM/Tivoli, BMC, and HP OpenView. The network management field is dominated by the Big Four: Computer Associates, IBM/Tivoli, BMC, and HP OpenView. And those dominant systems are fine for many companies. But maybe your company would be better off with a smaller system. ================ The growing complexity of distributed systems has fueled the demand for network management systems. According to San Jose, Calif.-based IT market research firm Dataquest, the worldwide market for network and system management has surpassed $10 billion and could soon reach the $20 billion mark.

About half that amount is absorbed by the "Big Four" (Computer Associates, IBM/Tivoli, BMC and HP OpenView), which dominate the top end of the enterprise market. Only their monolithic management frameworks are robust enough to scale across the complex global networks of Fortune 500 and big government organizations.

"Only frameworks give you a single place to touch the whole organization and see exactly what is happening in a large enterprise," said Rick Ptak, an analyst at Ptak & Associates of Amherst, N.H.

The Department of Defense’s Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), for example, utilizes Unicenter by Islandia, N.Y-based Computer Associates (CA). DCMA is responsible for monitoring 23,000 contractors working on 350,000 contracts per year. This involves 13,000 staff at 900 locations worldwide. A network of hundreds of Windows NT, Novell and UNIX servers runs Oracle, Sybase, SQL, Microsoft Office, Netscape and dozens of proprietary government applications. The agency has utilized Unicenter to manage all aspects of its network and remotely distribute software. Software distribution used to involve almost 200 technicians and local LAN administrators manually installing the program on each PC.

"The same job can now be accomplished centrally with three people in a matter of minutes," said John Van Dinther, director of information technology of DCMA’s Western District.

Zurich Life Insurance, a $10.9 billion commercial property/casualty insurance provider based in Schaumburg, Ill., is another typical site for a Big Four package. It implemented HP OpenView for 100 Windows servers, 25 Unix servers, plus network routers and switches spanning the country. Vice President of IT Operations Tim Hagn says the tool saved Zurich hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary hardware upgrades. Zurich shelved plans for a large-scale server refreshment when OpenView showed CPUs running at 30 percent to 50 percent capacity. The real problem was an I/O bottleneck.

The Big Four, though, have their critics. "They are extremely difficult to integrate and comparatively expensive," says Brian Fogg, technical director for systems integrator SRA International, Inc. (Fairfax, VA). "The simplest are on the order of $200,000 or more just to get infrastructure going and then another $40,000 or more per year for maintenance. In complicated scenarios, this can get into half million range easily."

That’s why Fortune 500 organizations with a relatively simple network, as well as many in the small and mid-sized category, are gravitating toward alternative solutions. According to a recent survey of 100 network operating centers by Lucent Technologies, 48 percent of users now prefer an "organic" approach that is based around customizing a variety of off-the-shelf software solutions to suit their individual needs. In contrast, only 18 percent preferred the frameworks.

Such companies as Concord Communications Inc. (Marlboro, Mass.), Aprisma Management Technologies Inc. (Portsmouth, N.H.) and Ipswitch Inc. (Lexington, Mass.) have emerged with relatively inexpensive and easy-to-deploy alternatives.

Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., used Aprisma Spectrum for its 6,000-user network to reduce troubleshooting time and improve network management efficiency.

"One of the main reasons we went the Spectrum is because it is a mature product and the learning curve has become smaller," said Network Operations Manager Phil May.

For a campus like Wake Forest, Spectrum costs upwards of $80,000, far less than typical price tags on Big Four packages. Installation takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks — again, far faster than the usual Tivoli or HPOV project.

But just as the likes of Concord and Aprisma have gained market share due to ease of use and a lower cost, another wave of vendors have appeared that undercut these firms and offer even greater levels of simplicity. There offerings are variously called toolkits, suites and mini-frameworks. This includes companies like SolarWinds (England), Somix Technologies Inc. (Sanford, ME), DeepMetrix Corporation (Hull, Quebec), and others.

"Niche players still have opportunities to leverage leading-edge technology to win against the big players," said Carolyn DiCenzo, a Dataquest analyst.

Central Maine Power (CMP), an Energy East Corp. unit headquartered in Augusta, Maine, for example, moved from Aprisma Spectrum to Somix WebNM to manage a network linking twenty sites via ATM and private fiber links. It consisted of 1400 desktops (primarily run Windows 2000) and 150 servers (Windows, AIX, and Linux), as well as a mainframe running O/S 390.

"For us, Spectrum meant one fulltime person just to keep the system running smoothly," says networking specialist Philip Morneault. "Analysis revealed that we were spending more time and money managing and maintaining it than it gave us valuable information."

He says WebNM cost a fraction of what CMP was paying previously, and was much easier to set up and maintain.

"Before you spend a lot more money and go for a management product with a dizzying design that promises to set the world on its ear – you might want to do a sanity check with WebNM," said Dennis Drogseth, director of Boulder, Colo.-based analyst firm Enterprise Management Associates. "If this type of solution is really right for you, you will have saved yourself a lot of time and money."

While none outside of the Big Four has captured more than 2.5 percent of the market, theses alternative solutions are not only gaining in market share, they have also caused their richer cousins to reevaluate their product lines.

"The broader market is evolving towards suites," said Drogeth. "Frameworks are beginning to reinvent themselves along the lines of providing the kinds of integration, intelligence, and out-of-the-box functions that suites can provide."

CA broke Unicenter into multiple modules in order to simplify things. Other vendors have followed: Tivoli consists of 58 modules; and OpenView has 62. Despite these improvements, however, they are still geared for use by larger firms and public entities which have the necessary funds and dedicated staff to operate the software and keep it updated.

A good example of how the market seems to be dividing comes in the shape of Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah. The main campus manages a complex network stretching from Hawaii to Israel via Unicenter. According to BYU Director of Systems Engineering Sorrel Jakins, taking a universal approach to enterprise management has played a critical role in containing IT costs. "Over the past ten years I’ve gone from one to 100 Unix servers yet my department has only expanded by four in that time," says Jakins.

A smaller BYU campus in Idaho (BYUI), however, uses WebNM. For them, Unicenter or HP OperView would be overkill and difficult to maintain. They felt more comfortable with a simpler, more flexible suite.

"We looked at various other network management platforms and software packages, but they have long implementation times and are very expensive," says Michael Rydalch, BYUI’s network manager. "WebNM has most of the functionality we needed and to get the rest from HP OpenView we would have had to pay ten times as much."

Robert Dennis is a high-tech writer specializing in enterprise server issues.

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