The platform lives on

Speculating on the viability of building a new management "framework" -- or a "platform" or a broad-brush network management software set under some other name -- seemed like good theoretical fun. But the question has become more than theoretical. New vendors, small and large, are still variously in the game.

Fact is, while "frameworks" and "platforms" in the traditional sense are passe, there are a surprising number of new, platform-like entrants emerging. Some are truly new vendors, such as RiverSoft and Entuity; others are evolving from one base towards another, such as OSI/Agilent (in this case, from telecommunications towards broader data management). Micromuse is growing towards a platform-like richness, with acquisitions such as Calvin Alexander and NetOpps. Concord Communications is enhancing its portfolio in scope and focus to include real-time as well as historical analysis for networks, systems and applications. And even what many may call traditional "framework" vendors, such as Hewlett-Packard and Computer Associates, are aggressively redefining their network management models. These examples of "neo-network management platforms" are just the tip of the iceberg -- probably less than 20% of the relevant and able candidates.

You may say -- and rightly so -- that in many cases these are not "frameworks" or "platforms." Certainly, many of the vendors would decry being affiliated with either term. The products reflect two critical trends redefining the management industry: the emergence of suites (bigger than a point product, smaller than a framework), and the adoption of intelligence engines (management systems automated to perform various tasks, such as availability or performance management).

Nevertheless, many of them are or are becoming platform-like in scope. For instance, some address fault, performance, service level and inventory management -- albeit not so much as a launching pad but as an integrated suite of applications.

So, if you’re about to purchase new software that seems platform-like in scope, should you prepare yourself for many days on the couch for psychoanalysis? The evidence above indicates no -- but here are a few do’s and don’ts that might serve as basic sanity checks:

Don’t get caught up in the word "framework" or the word "platform." Both are tarred with Cold War-like history -- so they carry more emotion than logic in today’s marketplace. Look under the covers for a product that fits you -- regardless of name. Many vendors will seek to innovate around this in any case -- witness RiverSoft’s Network Management Operating System (NMOS).

Do look for interoperability, with new software that takes advantage of existing management products and adds clearly defined benefits. The future is moving towards cooperation across brands, not monolithic brand displacement.

Do consider your particular requirements -- rather than just nifty technologies. The time for a one-size-fits-all technology-based product is long gone. The future is moving towards products that fit market and user requirements much more closely than in the past. Increasingly, people, rather than code, need to be at the heart of your software selection.

Do insist on iimproved ease of use and deployment. If you don’t, once again you’ll feel saddled with software that’s more Neolithic than new. This is true increasingly for large enterprises and service providers, for whom the issue of "scalability" includes deployment and usage issues, as well as management across many objects.

Don’t think that any product is a panacea. Sadly enough, in management software as in the rest of life, the urge to abdicate responsibility rather than better prepare for it usually ends in disappointment, or worse. Think through your requirements and shop around -- and continue to watch the market. Management software is arguably one of the hottest areas of innovation in high technology today.

This story, "The platform lives on " was originally published by Network World.

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