April 16, 2001, 9:11 AM — COMPANIES OFTEN neglect the hardware that makes networking possible. That's largely because managing network hardware is such a hassle. "Maintaining the physical layer is typically the domain of 'cable jockeys' -- people who go down to the datacenter and check to see that after a user moves, the proper cable is plugged into the proper device," says Paul Bugala, an analyst at research company IDC, in Framingham, Mass. "It's tedious."
It's also difficult. To change your network, you must untangle the implications that change has on your cabling infrastructure, and then record the action for future reference. "That can only be done by a network engineer using extensive documentation," Bugala says. But many engineers, lacking adequate software, keep track of their network infrastructures using only pencil and paper.
And what happens if you don't manage your physical network carefully? The risks run from administrative confusion to, in a worst-case scenario, security breaches. That's why many companies are slowly becoming sensitive to network hardware management.
New York-based ChoiceSeat is a case in point. ChoiceSeat installs and maintains broadband interactive entertainment systems, which include client devices, at seats and stadium boxes in sports arenas. Attendees can access information such as live and recorded video from a variety of camera angles, player and team statistics, and shopping sites, all from the consoles installed in their seats. The system has already been used at two of the past four Super Bowls, and the company recently signed an exclusive 5-year contract with the NFL.
In effect, ChoiceSeat creates stadiumwide broadband LANs. That means thousands of clients -- and thousands of potential hardware problems.
"Today, if something happens to the cable infrastructure that we deploy in stadiums and arenas, we rely on a console manager that tells us we have a problem," says Mary Frost, the CEO of ChoiceSeat. "But it doesn't identify that the problem is in the cable, for example, or that somebody has patched the cable somewhere else."
ChoiceSeat currently manages each client manually. "If someone changes a patch cord, for example, we rely on them to tell us,"Frost notes. But now that the company is conducting large-scale deployments -- one project on the company's docket could involve as many as 56,000 seats -- reliability and automation have become paramount.
To that end, ChoiceSeat is currently testing White Plains, N.Y.-based ITT Industries' new LANSense network management system, which provides tools to monitor and control fiber and copper networks from a single access point.