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3.2. NMS Architectures

Before going out and buying all your equipment, it's worth spending some time coming up with an architecture for your network that will make it more manageable. The simplest architecture has a single management station that is responsible for the entire network, as shown in Figure 3-1.

Figure 3-1

Figure 3-1. Single NMS architecture

The network depicted in Figure 3-1 has three sites: New York, Atlanta, and San Jose. The NMS in New York is responsible for managing not only the portion of the network in New York, but also those in Atlanta and San Jose. Traps sent from any device in Atlanta or San Jose must travel over the Internet to get to the NMS in New York. The same thing goes for polling devices in San Jose and Atlanta: the NMS in New York must send its requests over the Internet to reach these remote sites. For small networks, an architecture like this can work well. However, when the network grows to the point that a single NMS can no longer manage everything, this architecture becomes a real problem. The NMS in New York can get behind in its polling of the remote sites, mainly because it has so much to manage. The result is that when problems arise at a remote site, they may not get noticed for some time. In the worst case, they might not get noticed at all.

It's also worth thinking about staffing. With a single NMS, your primary operations staff would be in New York, watching the health of the network. But problems frequently require somebody onsite to intervene. This requires someone in Atlanta and San Jose, plus the coordination that entails. You may not need a full-time network administrator, but you will need someone who knows what to do when a router fails.

When your network grows to a point where one NMS can no longer manage everything, it's time to move to a distributed NMS architecture. The idea behind this architecture is simple: use two or more management stations and locate them as close as possible to the nodes they are managing. In the case of our three-site network, we would have an NMS at each site. Figure 3-2 shows the addition of two NMSs to the network.

Figure 3-2

Figure 3-2. Distributed NMS architecture

This architecture has several advantages, not the least of which is flexibility. With the new architecture, the NMSs in Atlanta and San Jose can act as standalone management stations, each with a fully self-sufficient staff, or they can forward events to the NMS in New York. If the remote NMSs forward all events to the NMS in New York, there is no need to put additional operations staff in Atlanta and San Jose. At first glance this looks like we've returned to the situation of Figure 3-1, but that isn't quite true. Most NMS products provide some kind of client interface to viewing the events currently in the NMS (traps received, responses to polls, etc.). Since the NMS that forwards events to New York has already discovered the problem, we're simply letting the NMS in New York know about it so it can be dealt with appropriately. The New York NMS didn't have to use valuable resources to poll the remote network to discover that there was a problem.

The other advantage is that if the need arises you can put operations staff in Atlanta and San Jose to manage each of these remote locations. If New York loses connectivity to the Internet, events forwarded from Atlanta or San Jose will not make it to New York. With operations staff in Atlanta and San Jose, and the NMSs at these locations acting in standalone mode, a network outage in New York won't matter. The remote-location staff will continue on as if nothing has happened.

Another possibility with this architecture is a hybrid mode: you staff the operations center in New York 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but you staff Atlanta and San Jose only during business hours. During off-hours, they rely on the NMS and operations staff in New York to notice and handle problems that arise. But during the critical (and busiest) hours of the day, Atlanta and San Jose don't have to burden the New York operators.

Both of the architectures we have discussed use the Internet to send and receive management traffic. This poses several problems, mainly dealing with security and overall reliability. A better solution is to use private links to perform all your network-management functions. Figure 3-3 shows how the distributed NMS architecture can be extended to make use of such links.

Figure 3-3

Figure 3-3. Using private links for network management

Let's say that New York's router is the core router for the network. We establish private (but not necessarily high-speed) links between San Jose and New York, and between New York and Atlanta. This means that San Jose will not only be able to reach New York, but it will also be able to reach Atlanta via New York. Atlanta will use New York to reach San Jose, too. The private links (denoted by thicker router-to-router connections) are primarily devoted to management traffic, though we could put them to other uses. Using private links has the added benefit that our community strings are never sent out over the Internet. The use of private network links for network management works equally well with the single NMS architecture, too. Of course, if your corporate network consists entirely of private links and your Internet connections are devoted to external traffic only, using private links for your management traffic is the proverbial "no-brainer."

One final item worth mentioning is the notion of trap-directed polling. This doesn't really have anything to do with NMS architecture, but it can help to alleviate an NMS's management strain. The idea behind trap-directed polling is simple: the NMS receives a trap and initiates a poll to the device that generated the trap. The goal of this scenario is to determine if there is indeed a problem with the device, while allowing the NMS to ignore (or devote few resources to) the device in normal operation. If an organization relies on this form of management, it should implement it in such a way that non-trap-directed polling is almost done away with. That is, it should avoid polling devices at regular intervals for status information. Instead, the management stations should simply wait to receive a trap before polling a device. This form of management can significantly reduce the resources needed by an NMS to manage a network. However, it has an important disadvantage: traps can get lost in the network and never make it to the NMS. This is a reality of the connectionless nature of UDP and the imperfect nature of networks.

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