Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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Unicenter TNG

Over the past few months we have been discussing the timely subject of network resource management (NRM). This month we will continue our analysis of available tools that address this concern with an overview of the preeminent software product in it's class: Computer Associates' Unicenter TNG.

As we have seen, the primary focus of NRM is the recovery of secondary costs associated with running and maintaining today's enterprise network solutions. Maintenance and management of these systems over a five year period outweigh capital costs by a ratio of  9:1. These losses stem from a variety of sources outlined in March and April's Monitor and are addressed in large by CA's comprehensive new product, Unicenter TNG.

End to End Management

Unicenter TNG does not attack the NRM problem piecemeal like many "solutions" on the market today. Unicenter utilizes a scaleable, business-centric model to provide end to end management of all network resources and includes features like asset discovery, SNMP (simple network management protocol) management, topology displays in both two and three dimensions, an object oriented, open and extensible  architecture and perhaps TNG's most valuable characteristic: Business Process Views of IT resources. These core capabilities and numerous others are offered over heterogeneous network environments; and provide IT managers and process engineers alike unparalleled control over applications, network devices (hubs, routers, switches, bridges etc.) servers, desktops, databases and workflow across the enterprise. Computer Associate's Unicenter is so comprehensive that it includes asset discovery and management of items not traditionally associated with computer networks: environmental and security system control and even telephone switches. This fact is indicative of CA's commitment to business based approaches to network resource management problems.

Feature Breakdown

The first item that bears mention is TNG's open and extensible architecture. Computer Associates offers all Unicenter functions  (by way of an SDK) to third party developers  and CA clients to enable them design custom solutions that leverage Unicenter's infrastructure via open interfaces. Unicenter utilizes a four layer architecture:

Distributed Agent Layer: This layer provides total control over all hard  IT resources, automating key management functions. It furnishes instrumentation and monitoring by employing artificial intelligence algorithms, bestowing upon IT managers perhaps their most valuable resource: time. Agents may be managed in turn by other agents, providing fault tolerance and a high degree of freedom from IT manager intervention. Multiple agents and agent mangers also allow for the filtering of event messages via data sharing between them and through  TNG's  Common Object Repository to reduce the "noise level" that seems to characterize less robust NRM software solutions. Agent actions are "policy based"; defined at rollout to ensure business processes are strictly adhered to. This is a definite advantage to anyone planning or observing ISO 9000 standards!

Enterprise Management Layer: This higher level layer provides API ‘s that coordinate management functions despite disparate protocols and standards. It allows for common policies to be enforced; regardless of individual unit communications idiosyncrasies.

Common Object Repository: This is where Unicenter all comes together. Everything is stored here: managed objects, their properties, Business Process Views definitions, object relationships and so on. This facilitates information exchange and subsequent management of all facets of the enterprise. Objects in the Repository may also be manipulated on the fly by intelligent agents which respond dynamically to business process requirements.

Real World Interface: This layer is definitely the most easily marketable of any feature Unicenter has to offer. (Translation:  it's really cool to look at.) It allows even the technically challenged among us to exercise a high degree of control over and obtain a wealth of information regarding the entire enterprise¼ no matter how far flung your resources may be. This is accomplished by way of a graphical two or (way more visually appealing) three dimensional enterprise cartographer which may be easily tailored to suit individual requirements. Using the three dimensional view allows an individual to zoom through a virtual reality version of your network infrastructure. Stephen Spielberg's  blockbuster  "Jurassic Park" includes a scene in which the little girl uses a computer to activate the locks on the door (preventing the group from becoming lunch for a hungry Raptor). This is almost exactly the view available (only the scene on the computer thankfully) to those accessing the Real World Interface. It allows you to drill down through various layers of your enterprise: from a vista as macro as a planet view, which shows you a map of your holdings worldwide, to a level as micro as a faulty processor on your 32 CPU NUMA enabled server in Osaka Japan. The Real World Interface possesses an inherent knowledge of latitudes, longitudes as well as telco country and area codes which are used to facilitate the placement of facilities represented in VR. A web based interface is also built right into Unicenter to permit low cost management of resources over the Internet. These are definitely key advantages to those deploying global networks.

The layers provide unprecedented control over your enterprise network infrastructure and embody the network management philosophy Computer Associates has been extremely successful in purveying over recent years.

Business Process Views

As mentioned earlier, Unicenter's Business Process Views are definitely one of it's most valuable tools. While most network resource management software deluges the administrator in an overwhelming amount of often trivial, unrelated data, Unicenter allows you to organize your perspective to highlight systems associated solely with the business process you are scrutinizing. TNG permits the user to answer business relevant queries and formulate solutions to business relevant problems. For example, if you posed a simple question to a traditional NRM solution such as "Why does it take so long for us to process and deliver our third party product orders?" you wouldn't get much of an answer. Unicenter, utilizing a scheme of resource organization by geography, functional role, application etc. and applying performance metrics from a business perspective, allows IT managers to quickly assess problem areas and apply timely solutions.

From Where I Sit

Whoa! It seems that I have just begun to scratch the surface of this powerhouse application's capabilities and I have come to the end of my allotted space. I haven't talked about the robust security and helpdesk features of the product or it's event management strategies or even TNG's revolutionary storage and backup schemes. Clearly this software has a tremendous amount to offer the medium to large scale enterprise and justifiably holds it's position as the market leader in this realm. Please feel free to contact me or check out CA's web site at www.cai.com for further information.

Originally published in Government Computer Magazine, June, 1997, by technology columnist, Ray Richards.


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