Just about every organisation that operates with the assistance of a local or wide-area network will be aware that network management is a complex business that can soak up the time of IT staff like a sponge.
But it is something that comes with the territory, since an all-encompassing network technology that manages itself without the need for supervision has yet to be invented.
What choices does that leave? The first is to operate a traditional network management team or department. But because of issues associated with the overall cost and the highly competitive nature of the jobs market, companies are being driven to look elsewhere.
Clearly, the preference for most would be to have a package which provides full control over what is happening on the network and, when work needs to be done, acts promptly and effectively. But it could be argued that in the case of internal employees, it is time that could be better spent working on strategic IT issues as opposed to maintenance and firefighting.
Historically, one of the popular options has been to outsource the network management function to a facilities management specialist, treating this as a supplier relationship and expecting performance on that basis. This has worked for many organisations, but has always suffered from a number of deficiencies, including the technical difficulties of managing the range of Lan hardware and software.
More importantly, facilities managers are less able than internal staff to understand the way the client's business works, and as a result the majority of companies have voted with their feet and retained internal control.
But just as networking technology has developed to allow organisations to effectively interconnect their IT systems, so the same technology can allow today's local and wide-area networks to be managed and maintained from outside the user organisation. This can extend to the desktop and release IT staff to turn their attention to delivering real business packages.
It can be achieved without the need to outsource all IT capability as there are many cases of organisations outsourcing IT functions only to find they have lost the IT experience built up over many years. Should the day come when it is necessary to regain control, it is suddenly a much more daunting prospect.
There are some very real practical and economic benefits to be gained by taking the best of both worlds and combining the skills of an external specialist with incumbent IT staff. This approach can produce affordable network management systems which, because of the nature of networking technology, are different to those located on site. It fulfils the same level of awareness as an internally managed system and spots potential problems before they occur. In effect, it can shift the business IT focus from day-to-day management to more strategic issues and releases the user organisation from the ongoing cycle of staff retention, recruitment, training and development.
So even though users are handing over the responsibility, they end up with more control over their network, not less. In this way, a company can have both an internal IT team working on strategic business IT issues and a virtual IT team managing network infrastructure, network traffic and applications on the desktop.
Jim Gregg is technical director at Ultima Networks.
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