If you have a predominantly Cisco-based network, and want to manage it with the least amount of effort, you'll be interested in CiscoWorks (CW). The question is, what will it actually give you, and how much effort will it be to set it up?

CiscoWorks components
First off, there are quite a few packages within the CiscoWorks family. Don't assume that, because they're all labelled CiscoWorks, they integrate quite as nicely as you'd like.

The main packages are the LAN Management Solution (LMS) and Routed WAN (RWAN) applications. These two do have a pretty big overlap, and do integrate onto one machine (either Windows or Solaris) as one.

Both contain what is the main guts and best features of CW - the Resource Manager Essentials (RME) engine. This provides all the inventory, configuration and change audit information, and for a large network, it really is worth its weight in gold.

This is what CW does best - real estate management. A background service interrogates your network for information using a mix of CDP and SNMP and tells you everything from the type of GBIC in a GigE card to the serial number of a PSU, or the code levels running on all your devices. It will tell you of every change made on your network, who made it, and what the precise change was, highlighting new or deleted lines in a config, and you can use it to compare configs over time - a real boon if you're trying to find out if anything changed on your network overnight because you now have a problem.

CW can also create templates for doing config changes, or you can use it to do ad-hoc ones which you can schedule in batches to be run out-of-hours. A similar process can be used to do IOS or CatOS upgrades. And CiscoView shows you a pictorial representation of any device, complete with colour coded ports to show active or disabled ports, empty slots and PSUs turned off - a quick and very useful view of a device hundreds of miles away.

Don't think you need LMS for your switches and RWAN for your routers - LMS will provide all the above information for everything. The difference between the two packages is in the additional applications included.

LMS includes something called Campus Manager, which draws topology maps of how your network is connected together. This will show exactly what is connected to what, but it's not really hierarchical, so doesn't scale very well, and it won't flash icons to indicate trouble areas. If that's what you need, your best bet is to use it with another management application such as OpenView (there are integration utilities to let you do this cleanly). What it will show you is which ports are in which VLANs, let you move them around without going near the CLI, see which are the root bridges in your Spanning Tree environment, and highlight speed and duplex mismatches.

A part of this worth special note is User Tracking. This reads the CAM tables of every device to give you the MAC and IP address of every end-station on your network, which switch it's plugged into, which port and VLAN it's on, and the username (you need a small app on your NetWare or Active Directory servers to enable this). If you've ever tried to find a user on your network, you'll appreciate how useful this is.

LMS also has a Device Fault Manager utility. This was added about three years ago, since CW really had no troubleshooting capabilities. Again, there's no flashing map - all errors and alerts are presented in tabular fashion. It's pre-configured with alert thresholds and polling intervals, though you can change this, and it does give you a lot of Cisco-specific detail. It's easier to use if you're an ex-Cabletron house, maybe, since the alarm display is in a similar format to Spectrum.

The other troubleshooting part of LMS is Real Time Monitor, which is actually a NetScout product (part of nGenius) customised slightly for Cisco RMON switches and the Cisco Network Analysis Monitor (NAM).

Instead of these two, the RWAN package has ACL Manager and Internetwork Performance Monitor. If you have lots of ACLs, ACLM does give you a nice simple template-driven way to create and distribute them, although there's a fair bit of setting up beforehand to do in terms of creating groups of networks, users and resources.

IPM is an excellent tool. A very easy to drive GUI lets you set up source (routers) and target (routers, switches, servers), choose an operation to carry out (e.g. ping, DHCP request/release, TCP connect) and set it going. Response times, packet losses and errors are collected and graphed, and it's a great troubleshooting tool for anyone who has ever had reports of the 'network running slow', since you can run these on a hop by hop basis to pinpoint problem areas. You can choose payload sizes and QoS settings, so it's handy to give you an idea if your higher-priority packets really do get through quicker. It uses software agents inherent in Cisco IOS (Service Assurance Agents) to carry out these polls.

The package names are confusing since LMS will look after your routers as well as your switches, if you don't feel the need for ACLM and IPM. Don't let your vendor push you into buying LMS 'for the switches' and RWAN 'for the routers' unless you really want those specific features.

The other parts of the CW family, such as the QoS Policy Manager, the VPN/Security Management Solution and the IP Telephony Environment Monitor tend to require their own servers (except QPM), and don't necessarily make use of LMS and RWAN information. These have uses of their own, but are pretty stand-alone; so again, don't feel pushed into buying the whole portfolio.

Next week: Setting up your network for CiscoWorks.