Network Management Systems

Choosing the right platform for your network management system (NMS) can be difficult, even daunting. It’s important to choose the right system for the needs of your particular organization. Network management can include single administrator managing a single LAN or a team of analysts spread around the country or even the world maintaining a large and complex WAN. In order to properly decide on a NMS that meets the current and future needs of your organization there are some basic features that one should look for when you begin your search.

The first thing to look for is a simple, and more importantly a single easy to use interface. Having to switch between screens can lead to missing important data or information about your network. Ideally everything should be easy to read and access from a single interface. The chosen system should also have the ability to set a baseline. This may seem trivial and basic, but without the ability to set a realistic and readable baseline for your network then you can’t really manage your network effectively. Another important feature to look for is auto discovery.

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Your NMS software should have the ability to send out packets over your network so that network devices can be added to your system without direct user input. You should also look for the ability to import configuration information, again to prevent an administrator from having to spend countless hours entering tedious information. Finally, your NMS should be able to provide real time reporting on network data. In order to maintain a healthy network an administrator needs to be able to be proactive as opposed to reactive; having an “end of day” report from your NMS does little to help stop a problem before it gets out of hand.

Using the above criteria I chose for my paper Spiceworks, which I personally use (along with Wireshark/Ethereal). Spiceworks went into development in 2006 and was released later that same year. It was created and released to fill an niche in a market where NMS and other IT related utilities were seen as expensive and difficult to use. Spiceworks bills itself as being made by IT pros for IT pros. It is almost as much a social media outlet for IT pros as it is a network utility. Rather than charging high fees for its product they use an ad based web utility to fund the project.

Spiceworks offers many of the important features offered by high priced network management systems. It uses a single interface that allows a user or admin to access and view all of the data collected by the utility. On the downside it is a web based interface and thus if there is no internet connection there is in effect no NMS. It is easy to install and uses minimal resources (also due in part to its web based interface). However it also does not support data graphing and has limited ability in performance monitoring.

This limited ability to monitor network performance does also hinder somewhat the ability to create an accurate baseline with Spicework. One important feature included with Spiceworks though is the ability to automatically discover all devices on your network. Upon installation the utility runs an initial scan that while does take a significant amount of time (just for the first scan) it is able to locate and identify most if not all of your network devices; this is assuming of course that the proper administrator privileges and account data has been properly entered as I found out the hard way when I first began using Spiceworks.

In addition most or all of your configuration data can be imported and backed up in the event of a catastrophic failure. Spiceworks also provides real time monitoring of your network and sends alerts when it detects a problem. It also provides the network administrator the ability to customize the alerts and data monitored. The bottom line is that you don’t always get what you pay for. Spiceworks, for the price (free) offers a fairly comprehensive solution for all of an organizations network management needs.

While it does have its limitations, such as the use of ads on the web based interface, and no data graphing and limited performance monitoring, it still offers most of the essential tools offered by its high priced counterparts. Also, since Spiceworks contributors come from all over the world, you will always have access to some form of support and there is bound to be somebody that has an answer to your problem. They also offer a support forum where folks from all walks of the IT community can chime in and ask or answer questions, and even offer suggestions to the Spiceworks crew and community.

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