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04:23 PM
David Ewalt
David Ewalt

Networks: Mature Management Tools Provide Returns

Swinerton is using automated network tools 'to leverage our people because people are very expensive,' IT director Mathews says. 'A lot of these tools allow us to do more with the people we have.'

Most businesses have been running networks--at least voice networks--longer than they've been running computer systems. And in some respects, network-management applications are more mature and capable of automating tasks than other types of data-center-management tools.

Construction company Swinerton Inc. has a highly distributed network, with connections to job sites around the country. "It's hard to support," says Larry Mathews, director of IT. Swinerton uses automated network-monitoring software to discover when and where routers and switches might be failing and to alert IT staff when connections are dropped. The system helps prevent downtime and lets Mathews deploy IT staff to more important and strategic jobs. "We're just trying to leverage our people because people are very expensive," he says. "A lot of these tools allow us to do more with the people we have."

Automated systems also empower end users, says Bill Ashton, director of IT for the town of Herndon, Va. Ashton's office recently deployed a voice-over-IP system to the town's more than 200 employees, and he set up a browser-based application to automate the process that lets users set up voice mail and program their telephones, among other tasks. "Now the end user is self-sufficient," he says. "It puts more power into the hands of users. There's a little more ownership, and the end user is more efficient."

The town is undertaking a new process to monitor its network and make sure critical voice traffic doesn't get blocked or bog down the rest of the system. "It's a necessity," Ashton says. "We need to be more proactive in our analysis of network usage."

Automated traffic-management and WAN-optimization tools from companies such as Expand Networks, Packeteer, and Peribit Networks are popular, IDC analyst Stephen Elliot says. "They're really cutting edge in helping to drive return on bandwidth and improve application response times," he says. "There's such an opportunity to help enterprise users to better use their bandwidth pipes."

This story was updated March 21, 2008, to correct the spelling of Larry Mathews name.

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