It's been a busy month for network management vendors, with Network Instruments, Entuity and Netuitive all releasing updated tools that - among other things - address the growing need to make the connection between IT and the business services it supports.

Analysing availability

Network Instruments has released version 5 of its Link Analyst tool, which polls and identifies network devices to assess your network infrastructure's availability and performance. This latest version allows this assessment to be done by business process or department, and also tracks changes, says NI boss and co-founder Douglas Smith.

The £7200 program integrates with NI's Observer and GigaStor network analysis tools too. That means if it spots problems, a network administrator can also monitor application performance and rewind the network traffic or drill down to device level for fault finding.

"This is an active tool, not a passive information gleaner like Observer," says Smith. "Through our use of SNMP, we can draw not only switch-to-server relationships but also switch-to-switch relationships - what's connected to which ports.

"It can also group SNMP and WMI (Windows management interface) objects. Observer is very good at finding problems related to traffic, but it's not so good at finding problems internal to a device, such as a server hard disk filling up.

"Link Analyst v5 can also show timing and availability. It's like Tracert, but it can graph over time, and it can show if a route is flapping, which is useful for checking that your MPLS network is set up properly."

Smith says the market for such tools has changed. In the past, it was mainly about mapping your network from a management perspective - Link Analyst derives from a tool originally developed for mapping Novell NetWare LANs, for example.

Now though, it is now much more about organising the data to show how business services map onto the IT infrastructure. "There's only a certain amount of data a system can give you," he adds. "After that, it's how you organise it."

An Eye for the business manager

Meanwhile, Entuity has drastically upped the reporting capabilities of Eye of the Storm, its integrated network monitoring software, to make it easier for net admins to feed relevant performance information (that 'IT service delivery' stuff) to business-side managers.

"As the IT infrastructure becomes more complex and as IT departments become internal service providers, people demand more services and see them as consumables," says marketing programmes manager David Halliwell. "It means you need lots of tools, and you have to put the information into very easy to understand reports. A lot of the customer requests we get are to continually improve the reporting aspect."

As well as more reports and the ability to export data for analysis, Eye's developers have added a configuration tracking and checking tool, which checks that your switches and other gear are set up correctly and according to company policy. It may not be as comprehensive as stand-alone tools to do the same job from the likes of Netcordia, but it's a free add-on - once you've bought Eye, of course, which costs from around £25,000.

There's also new tools to identify, monitor and report on VMware servers, as well as physical servers. Lee Walker, Entuity's development manager, says that while server monitoring is much the same for real or virtual, the big difference is that with VMs, you also need to keep track of what resources are available on each physical machine, and how much each VM is using.

"Gathering the information is not a problem - it's what you do with it," he says, adding: "We are seeing a trend towards combining network and server management. Business managers are not interested in hardware, they're interested in how it's supporting your business."

He adds that his team work on a variant of the 80/20 principle with tools like these, aiming to deliver the 20 percent of functionality that covers 80 percent of admin needs. "We've dipped a toe in the water by certifying on VMware, now we're waiting to see what our customers want next," he says.

Entuity has also changed its naming strategy and says it will now come out with updates annually. So where last year's release was Eye of the Storm v5 (reviewed here), this latest one (which is due out of beta at the end of this month) will instead be titled Eye 2008. The product's developers - who are London-based, even though Entuity is a US company - occasionally slip and call it v6 though...

Self-learning performance reports

Still on service delivery but now at the high end, Netuitive has brought out a second release of Service Analyzer, its self-learning performance management software for large and complex networks. This is a bit like security information management (SIM) for network admin, in that collects all the reports and metrics coming back from your network devices and correlates them.

First it looks to see which are the important ones, and second it learns - by itself, according to Netuitive's president and CEO Nick Sanna - how they relate to the performance of your business services.

This differentiates Service Analyzer - which Sanna says typically sells for over $300,000 (£150,000) - from policy or rules-based engines that simply pull in numbers and flag any that go out of bounds. Instead, it looks for the patterns in the numbers that describe a normal state of affairs, and then watches for changes that show something has gone wrong.

The idea is it not only tells you when you have application performance problems, but it also helps you do problem isolation to work out what's causing them, he adds. You then switch to a traditional network analyser for fault identification and root analysis.

"It needs baselining, it also needs to understand how the various factors relate to each other," he says. "It eliminates up/down or erratic metrics, and learns about covariance - different views of the same thing - by spotting metrics that move together."

He says that the real issue today is not network performance data - there's buckets of that, more than any human can cope with - but bringing data together and making sense of it in a business context.

"The data collection layer is commoditising, the trend is towards analysis and metrics. A lot of what we do is understanding and importing other tools' data," he explains.

And like the other vendors here, he adds that a big part of the new version was making it more relevant to the business. "IT people found our analysis very good, but needed to get it to the business - our customers wanted a dashboard that the business people could relate to," he explains.

"Service management is about looking from the perspective of the business. It's monitor the status of the business services, then drill down to the cause, not the other way around."