A framework-based network management system (NMS) doesn't necessarily have to consist of scores of modules that support a supercomplex, hypereclectic computing and network environment. For lots of networks (or if you want to get your feet wet), the framework plus a few modules may be all you need. We call these tools framework express, or framework lite.

The core of the OpenView framework express is Network Node Manager. In our tests, it excelled at network discovery, device status tracking, network map graphing, statistics gathering and SNMP alert processing. Network Node Manager uses Management Information Base (MIB) data from several sources, including routers, switches, bridges and repeaters. It captures some Layer 2 data, but for the most part it maps Layer 3 details. HP supplies numerous predefined MIB expressions, which Network Node Manager applies. The impressive list includes utilisation and error percentages, total packets by category (in, out and errors), retransmits, Cisco memory utilisation and full-duplex utilisation percentage.

Network Node Manager collects network health data, stores it in a relational database (provided by HP), analyses the stored device-status and event data, and reports results in useful charts and graphs. The system's root-cause problem analysis, dubbed Advanced Intelligent Diagnosis for Networks, was especially helpful in zeroing in on a specific device that was causing an outage or performance problem, while its path-analysis capability is similarly helpful in pinpointing problems and performance degradations involving network pathways and linkages.

Network Node Manager's quick and accurate discovery feature worked well in all our tests, no matter what mix of devices we asked it to manage. It identified and inventoried not only physical devices, but also virtual network services. Network Node Manager, which accepts what HP terms Smart Plug-ins in order to support new technologies and services, is itself a sort of framework environment.

Auto baselining
Network Node Manager's automatic baseline feature, like its discovery feature, makes set-up and initial use a breeze. This feature automatically sets alarm thresholds by reviewing and analysing collected device-status and event data to identify deviations, exceptions and other unusual activity. When we used this feature and added a few thresholds of our own (based on our knowledge of the applications using the network), Network Node Manager thereafter generated prompt and highly informational alarms, via pager or e-mail, to alert us when the thresholds were exceeded.

The system has comprehensive protocol support for packet formats, including HSRP, IPv6 and virtual LAN material. We also found that its distributed architecture scales well to handle larger and more complex network environments. Network Node Manager even monitors itself to ensure it's running normally. It pages an administrator or sends e-mail alerts if the self-monitor finds that Network Node Manager, or its server, has died.

The OpenView Operations module works with Network Node Manager to provide event management, performance monitoring and automated alert processing. This is especially useful for data centres that need to achieve 24/7 uptime and availability. We noticed in testing that multiple concurrent instances of OpenView Operations co-ordinated and synchronised with each other, exchanging device and network status information. Running in a clustered environment, OpenView Operations will robustly fail over to another healthy server. HP supplies a rather elaborate programming interface for OpenView Operations, and it sports a high-level Visual Basic Script-like language for customers who want to tailor its processing.

The OpenView Internet Services module excelled at tracking Web transaction-oriented service-level agreement (SLA) violations. For services we defined, from general Web access to particular e-commerce transactions, it noted availability and response-time details, and alerted us when SLA parameters were exceeded. Alerts took the form of pager calls, e-mail notices and SNMP traps, and we could tell the module to execute a command in response to an alert.

As is true for virtually all of the OpenView modules, each one we tested runs on HP-UX, Sun Solaris, Microsoft Windows (2000, 2003 and XP) and Red Hat Linux.

How easy are these things?
HP calls Network Node Manager's user interface Home Base. It gives administrators, engineers, trouble-shooters and planners an intuitive, easy-to-navigate summary of the network's status, quick access to detailed alarms and easy-to-understand graphical maps of the network infrastructure and services. HP bundles both a native Windows version and Web-based version of Home Base with Network Node Manager.

Drilling down through Home Base's maps to find device and connection details was a snap - the network health information displayed by the maps helped us locate problems quickly and productively. When a problem developed, Home Base filtered and correlated its store of network events, and produced a summary alarm that described the problem clearly and in plain language. As we investigated a problem, Home Base created and displayed dynamic menus that directed our thoughts and efforts toward solving the problem. Customising Home Base's analysis of events via the Network Node Manager Correlation Composer feature was simple and straightforward.

Predesigned reports from HP highlight items such as performance, alarm, availability and inventory trends. Many reports contrasted current and historical data, which helped us spot emerging problems, while other reports showed network utilisation, top talkers and listeners, and inbound and outbound errors. A Ping Response Time and Ping Retry report showed us such response times and the number of retries, to help measure latency across our network. The RMON Segment Utilisation report revealed network bandwidth usage, and a Frame Relay report tracked forward and backward congestion rates to show bottlenecks. Reports also showed summary and detailed device availability, device inventory data, alarm histories and multiple-device reboot events.

The OpenView Internet Services module sported a productive dashboard interface, offering us a quick, tree-based navigation, SLA health indicators and a helpful troubleshooting and analysis tool.

HP OpenView documentation is only online. Despite its complexity, the software was easy to install and begin using.

Overall we felt the HP Network Node Manager, OpenView Operations and OpenView Internet Service modules were collectively an excellent way to explore framework-based network management and monitoring. The system will excel for a growing midsize company that needs scaleable tools with greater capacity and more functions, or for a large company that wants to manage and monitor its network more closely.

OUR VERDICT

The HP Network Node Manager, OpenView Operations and OpenView Internet Service modules are an excellent way for a growing midsize company to explore framework-based network management and monitoring.