Owning an ever-more complex network infrastructure to handle your ever-more demanding integrated enterprise, inter-enterprise and plant IT, brings with it responsibilities and challenges. Questions such as: how do you scope the network requirements? how do you keep the network infrastructure running once it’s up? and how do you support the users themselves? are all uppermost in managers’ minds.
Philip Watson, marketing manager at software vendor Activation IKM, says: “The responsibilities of network management are no longer the domain of only the network manager. The impact of network performance on business productivity is great and where the network controls customer-facing systems, it also has a significant influence on competitiveness and market share. But these are business issues, and control of network resources is a business decision for non-IT board members. Our network control tool ActiPol acknowledges this by translating business directives into network instructions via drag-and-drop processes on the GUI (graphical user interface). The power of the network is driving network managers to become more business aware.”
When Dave Grigsby, applications development consultant at Microscope, Microsoft Premier Support for Developers, needed to recreate the problematic effects of the IP WAN (wide area network), he utilised Shunra Software’s Cloud which “captures real network performance parameters and then recreates them in our controlled lab environment.” Says Grigsby: “Anyone developing WAN-based products should get a copy of the Cloud for their lab. We’ve made the lab as lifelike as is possible.”
Benny Dron, Shunra’s CEO, says, “Scores of Fortune 1000 companies and many leading independent testing labs use our software products for testing any IP solution imaginable. That includes defining bandwidth requirements and reducing risk by identifying potential problems early in the develop/deploy cycles. Products work before being let loose on the Internet.”
Paul Edgeley, managing director of SAP and Sage enterprise software (ERP) implementor Lynx Technology says, “We believe customers should spend their time managing their networks rather than managing their management systems. For this, Castlerock SNMPc is a network management system designed to decrease operational costs and continuously improve network performance.”
Castlerock uses the SNMP management protocol to poll and configure devices, workstations and servers over common IP networks, delivering the services: infrastructure management, device management, network reporting and network events. Users include two divisions of Acordis Chemicals (formerly Courtaulds Chemicals) in Derbyshire which migrated from the Novell environment to Microsoft Windows NT. A central IT department here looks after basic infrastructure, voice, data and mainstream manufacturing systems. The decision to work with a service provider rather than tackle everything in-house was based on a perceived boost to productivity borne out by experience.
“The project was implemented 70% faster through outsourcing than by doing it entirely in-house,” insists Chris Bennett, IT manager for the Filter Tow division. “We worked with Lynx as a partnership. In the future, because of our new infrastructure, our IT staff will spend less time on maintenance, freeing them up to work on other projects.”
Activation IKM’s Watson adds, “Planning and scoping of network requirements is of paramount importance. But at a time when Internet traffic is growing exponentially, the risk of inaccurate or short-lived plans is very real. Application of QoS (quality of service) to applications and users, according to business policy overcomes this risk by ensuring delivery of the most business-critical traffic promptly, even though lower priority traffic may be delayed. Planning using QoS also ensures bandwidth over-provisioning – and the consequent expense – is avoided.
“The full-scale integration of networks into business operations demands network service must be able to respond to changing business environments,” he adds. “However the adoption of policy-based networking (PBN) control has been limited by solutions that are complicated to deploy and slow to respond to changes in business policy. So PBN’s benefits have been confined to WAN service providers where QoS is changed infrequently.”
His product ActiPol raises the game of PBN from the laborious process of network monitoring and router configuration right up to a rapid-response business tool offering improved productivity to businesses reliant on time-sensitive processes. Examples particularly include CRM (customer relationship management), B2B (business to business e-commerce), JIT (just in time) and business continuity.
“It’s a feature of modern organisations that different network users need different applications at different times and with differing priorities,” notes Watson. “Furthermore, staff turnover and changes in responsibilities demand frequent changes to user requirements. PBN’s ability to respond rapidly to these events offers network control that liberates network managers from otherwise time-absorbing work. Most recently ActiPol, for example, has generated interest among risk management consultants who value the software’s dynamic nature – and plan to by-pass the user by utilising its responsiveness to trigger business continuity actions.”
Summarise? The end-to-end integration of PBN with network management tools and business processes takes networks into a new era where networks are planned holistically to match the needs of the organisation.
If there’s a ‘smaller’ company wanting to climb aboard the e-business bandwagon, the process can be simplified if that company elects to rent services. Application service provider (ASP) HostLogic, for example, maintains that renting SAP R/3 ERP software is some 40% cheaper than the traditional routes. That’s worth thinking about! But even then that route is not exclusive to small enterprises. Key HostLogic customer Tyco (the diversified manufacturing group) chose HostLogic’s ASP service to enable R/3 to be rolled out fast across its group – and the network management and control pain was absorbed by HostLogic.
Beyond that, Computer Associates and eCom are to construct a secure and robust hosting network, built on Sun servers, offering a global content delivery infrastructure, and four-nines availability, with initial control centres in Gibraltar and Ireland.
With developments like these, companies of whatever size can make the bald choice: do everything themselves or hand the work over to an ASP while focusing on its core competence. It’s not chalk and cheese either: there are too many variables in the costing mix. Don’t expect it to get any easier!
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WhatsUp Gold: the ideal Remedy
Leading eCRM and e-business infrastructure solutions supplier Remedy selected Ipswitch’s WhatsUp Gold as its network monitoring solution. Remedy has a staff of 1,000 in 10 countries and a world-wide customer base of 9,100. As a key player in the global e-business industry, Remedy needs reliable, robust networks.
Mark Walters, Remedy senior support engineer, says, “Colleagues at Remedy in Mountain View (California) recommended WhatsUp Gold when asked for a reliable network monitoring solution. We recognised the need to provide a consistent solution that was usable and supportable from both the US and UK.”
WhatsUp Gold monitors the network and servers at 12-plus Remedy sites. A map of the corporate network has been developed including all key routers, switches and servers. These are monitored to ensure 24/7 availability with e-mail alerts being generated should there be a failure. SMS text messages to mobile phones are also sent if there’s a problem with a critical system out of hours.
“The ability to receive quick warnings about apparent network outages is a major benefit,” says Walters. “Access to the network map through a web browser is another key feature – it makes remote troubleshooting a reality. Benefits we’ve accrued include less time spent manually checking systems status thanks to the software’s multiple alert capabilities, and time saved in locating and resolving problems because of the advance warnings the system can offer.”
Walters adds: “We plan to roll the system out to other Remedy offices world-wide – they’ll forward alerts to each other, enabling global monitoring and response.”
Analytic view - the lowdown
Kevin Prouty, analyst AMR’s research director for manufacturing strategies, says, “The key need today is for the integration of fragmented networks: every factory is a museum of control hardware. Companies like Modicon and Zoneworx produce web and TCP/IP adapters for factory networks, which individually sell for $200 – but when you have 500 different devices it starts to get expensive. From the other direction [plant floor automation] you have producers coming up with every device having its own adapter for Ethernet or TCP/IP, and you build up a mixed network that way.
“This leads on to data and applications chewing up bandwidth very quickly. This is non-value add information, which should be equated against a return on investment. There has to be a justification for putting data onto the network. For every piece of data you have to ask, do I need to see that data every second, minute and hour? Do the calculation and add 30% to give the slack. Look at the business plan.”
And he adds: “Pre-1998, user support consisted of some guy in a tee-shirt who fixed computers. The direction companies are moving now is to treat factory systems like the corporate LAN. The big auto makers are moving in that direction.” Beyond this, says Prouty, “Plant managers are seeing commercial technology inroads to the factory.” But they are limited: “For example a CNC Ethernet card is available for $2,400, but an Ethernet card from 3Com costs $69 – commercial technology is inexpensive and ubiquitous. Lifecycles of systems are better if this approach is adopted,” says Prouty. “Rockwell used to have a proprietary Ethernet chip set and now uses embedded Samsung kit. Within two years PLCs and PCs will look the same on the factory floor.”
Prouty believes the auto makers are in the vanguard: because of their complex processes they’re at the cutting edge, and integrating standard products. Oil and gas, and pharmaceuticals are active, the latter because of the regulatory nature of their work and the requirement to store data on what they’re making. Military concerns have turned their operations to the controls business. They offer robust control and handle computer-intensive requirements. Examples include Raytheon and Textron. But leapfrogging these players to take the high ground could be aerospace, which because of all-round working on airframes could drive significant portions of wireless networking technology.
Dr Richard Piggin, senior consultant at analyst ARC Advisory Services UK, says: “The bottom up view could be summarised with a health warning. IT departments have skills with Ethernet networking, which on the surface might appear directly translatable to the plant floor, when Ethernet is used for control and not purely for monitoring.
“Unfortunately, this is not the case. The nature of control requires a different approach, which control engineers would worry about if the IT department was set loose. The key question is determinism – and reliability. A suitable Ethernet network configuration would use switches and single devices on segments and/or increase the speed to 100Mb, with protection/isolation from non-plant floor networks.”
Piggin reckons the tool sets do not translate at all well down to the plant floor. You may need tools for various networks and devices, although there are solutions aimed at transparency (Piggin refers to Rockwell’s NetLinx and Schneider’s Transparent Factory). “If we take Ethernet connectivity to PLCs for instance, they will undoubtedly support TCP/IP, but you will need to complete the configuration using the PLC configuration tool – possibly listing all network devices that PLC will communicate with – which is not flexible.”
Piggin points to the race that’s on to get the protocol of choice on Ethernet for control. All the major fieldbus (digital plant intelligent networks) players are in on it – principal contenders appear to be Ethernet IP (by DeviceNet/ControlNet), Profibus, Foundation Fieldbus, Modicon and Interbus – but it’s early days yet. There are also associations considering open approaches from the (mostly process industry) user-driven direction (although suppliers have joined in) such as IDA (www.ida-group.org), a supplier’s viewpoint IAONA (www.iaopennetworking.com) and Industrial Ethernet (www.ethernet.industrial-networking.com).