What is a Network Management System?

A network management system (NMS) is a set of hardware and/or software tools that allow network administrators to monitor, configure, optimize and secure a computer network. NMS tools are designed to keep track of performance and devices on a network, in order to promptly detect problems and respond to them.

A group of network monitoring icons including a laptop, server rack, router, switch, firewall, and mobile smartphone.
Network management systems monitor the performance of key infrastructure across an IT environment.

Components of a Network Management System

A basic NMS consists of two key components – network management software and hardware.

Network Management Software

This refers to the NMS interface and applications that administrators use to view metrics, set thresholds and alerts, generate reports, and manage the network. Popular examples include SolarWinds, PRTG and ManageEngine.

Network Management Hardware

The hardware consists of the servers and probes that run the NMS software and collect data from devices around the network using protocols like SNMP, NetFlow and WMI. Data collection hardware may also include dedicated appliances.

Functions of a Network Management System

NMS tools perform several essential functions:

Monitoring

Continuously collects performance statistics on network availability, traffic, errors, device health metrics like CPU usage, and more. Monitoring enables administrators to detect problems in real-time.

Configuration

Automates management of device configurations like router settings. This ensures correct and consistent configurations across the network.

Accounting

Tracks usage and allocation of network resources like bandwidth. This allows administrators to properly plan budgets and capacity.

Performance

Collects metrics on throughput, response times and transactions to optimize network performance. Identifying performance bottlenecks enables capacity planning.

Security

Monitors access logs, malware activity, vulnerabilities and other security events. This allows admins to promptly respond to threats.

Benefits of a Network Management System

The main benefits of implementing an NMS include:

Increased Efficiency

Automating tasks like monitoring and configuration changes eliminates manual processes. This enables IT teams to focus on other priorities.

Improved Security

Continuous monitoring enables earlier detection of breaches and attacks. Automated configuration reduces errors that create vulnerabilities.

Centralized Control

An NMS provides a single dashboard to control the entire network. This simplifies administration compared to managing devices individually.

Cost Savings

Optimizing performance reduces bandwidth costs. Automation also reduces overhead for tasks like troubleshooting.

Popular Network Management Systems

Some leading NMS platforms include:

SolarWinds

Features

SolarWinds offers comprehensive monitoring, deep forensics tools, optimized dashboards and automated network configuration.

Pricing

SolarWinds pricing starts at $2,995 per server for the base Orion software. Additional modules are priced separately.

PRTG

Features

Paessler PRTG provides in-depth monitoring, intelligent mapping of network topology and support for cloud infrastructure. Custom sensor creation allows monitoring virtually any metric.

Pricing

PRTG is priced based on the number of sensors required, starting at $1,600 for up to 500 sensors. Enterprise pricing is customized.

ManageEngine

Features

ManageEngine solutions focus on performance monitoring, Netflow analysis and configuration management. Integrated modules provide well-correlated data.

Pricing

ManageEngine OpManager pricing starts at $745 for 25 devices. More advanced editions and premium support are offered at higher price points.

Implementing a Network Management System

Key steps for deploying an NMS are:

Assessing Needs

This involves determining what to monitor and what functionality is required.

Identifying Key Metrics

Discuss with stakeholders what network and infrastructure metrics are most critical to monitor. This guides NMS selection.

Determining Budget

Factor in upfront and ongoing costs like software/hardware, maintenance, overhead for staff to manage the system.

Selecting a Product

Choosing the right NMS platform is crucial for success.

Comparing Features

Evaluate tools that meet defined requirements within budget constraints. Prioritize must-have versus nice-to-have capabilities.

Getting Quotes

Get precise pricing details through formal quotes after product demos. Calculate total cost of ownership (TCO).

Deploying the System

Once a product is selected, it must be properly implemented.

Installing Hardware/Software

Set up necessary servers, appliances and probes. Install NMS dashboards, databases and supporting software.
Configuring Settings

Configure access controls, notifications, assets to monitor. Optimize default metrics and dashboards.

Training Staff

Educate IT team on using the NMS day-to-day to ensure it is leveraged effectively.

Trends in Network Management Systems

Some current trends shaping NMS technology include:

Artificial Intelligence

AI is enabling more predictive analytics from NMS data. This allows earlier detection and remediation of network issues.

Internet of Things (IoT) Integration

As more IoT devices connect to networks, NMS tools are adapting to manage and monitor these devices.

Cloud-Based Systems

NMS solutions are shifting to the cloud for flexibility, scalability and to facilitate remote network management.

Conclusion

Implementing a robust network management system has become crucial given the complexity of modern networks. Choosing an NMS with monitoring, configuration and optimization capabilities tailored to your environment enables administrators to secure network assets and provide an enhanced user experience. Considering factors like integration with existing tools is key for a successful deployment.

FAQs

What protocols do NMS tools use?

Common protocols include SNMP, Netflow, IPFIX, Syslog and WMI. These enable collecting data from routers, switches, servers and other devices.

How are NMS tools priced?

NMS pricing often involves per-device fees or charges based on metrics monitored. Additional costs include support contracts and proprietary hardware.

Can NMS integrate with other systems?

Quality NMS platforms offer APIs and connectors to enable integration with tools like service desk systems, CMDBs, identity managers and more.

Is cloud-based NMS better?

Cloud systems allow managing remote, dynamic networks more easily and offer inherent scalability. But on-prem may suit organizations with strict latency/bandwidth needs or that handle highly sensitive data.

Should I use an open-source vs commercial NMS?

Open-source options like Zabbix offer lower cost but typically require more in-house expertise. Commercial tools are more intuitive and offer official support services.

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