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Creating order from chaos: How Sun's Solstice Enterprise Manager 2.0 addresses crucial network management processes

What are its components -- and what do they do? What future developments are in the works as Sun increases its market potential with ports to Windows NT and HP-UX?

By Robert E. Lee

February  1997
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Distributed computing environments have become complex and almost chaotic, with many organizations looking to implement better controls over the events and activities of users across the enterprise. Doing so requires an applications and system management infrastructure that makes the task achievable without breaking the bank with time, effort, and money -- Solstice Enterprise Manager is forging the path to this nirvana. And with ports to Windows NT and HP-UX scheduled for completion by the first half of this year, Sun is giving HP, IBM, and DEC some serious competition. (1,500 words)

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Can you simply define an enterprise? And where do you begin with a term so large? After all, enterprise invokes many different images -- from the corporation where the term refers to the entire business to science fiction where "enterprise" can only stand for the flagship of the United Federation of Planets, the star ship Enterprise, focal point ot the future of the galaxy.

It seems that these two images really embody many of the same characteristics when the term enterprise is applied to your information systems infrastructure. Any solution that claims to be enterprise-wide in scope must satisfy both specific and broad-based criteria. It also follows that the solution should set the standard for all others to follow in the corporation, much as the star ship Enterprise does.

While Sun's Solstice Enterprise Manager 2.0 does not cover all of the platforms you would find in many heterogeneous enterprises today, it is building a foundation that soon will encompass most of the operating systems you support. Its purpose is the management of all networked devices and applications in your organization. Through the term enterprise, the software is designed to bring global management capabilities into a hierarchical, distributed management structure -- a tall task in this day and age.

According to Mary Slocum, group marketing manager of network management at Sun, the key to the success of this product revolves around enterprises looking towards the advanced features of Enterprise Manager. This involves the ability to view the entire enterprise without the need to copy data from all of the management servers and the forthcoming integration of JMAPI (Java Management API). She views Hewlett-Packard and Cabletron as Sun's most signifcant competitors in the network management marketplace.


How does Solstice address crucial network
management processes?

Networking and the distribution of computing has created a quagmire of events and processes that go begging for a simpler and more comprehensive management mechanism. As computing has gone from centralized applications with very serialized processes to highly-distributed applications driven by events, the need for more effective tools has evolved.

The market is demanding tools that manage more than just networks. Bob Sakakeeny, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group, says that "Tivoli and Computer Associates' Unicenter products are in the lead, with even Hewlett-Packard's OpenView fading behind them..." and Enterprise Manager is well behind HP OpenView. This forces Enterprise Manager to carve a place in the market, beyond the traditional loyal SunNet Manager users by making the product more innovative and extensible.

Event management encompasses many task areas. In the network there are the issues of network performance, equipment operation, failure detection and response, among many other issues. For applications there are security concerns, access controls, application management, and other needs.

In the large enterprise (greater than 5,000 workstations), the number of workstations often exceed any reasonable capacity to be managed. The number of applications, events, and interconnecting network hardware components create an environment ripe for failures and faults. Just the magnitude of the management task defines the single greatest reason to seek out a management system.

More importantly, the need to identify trends and establish root causes across such a large base of applications and equipment becomes the cornerstone of solving issues before they get out of control. Only through tools like Solstice Enterprise Manager can you gather the data needed to understand these issues. Analysis of the data becomes the next important step, allowing trends to emerge. Once a trend or event is understood, then a response must be developed and implemented. In an ideal world, as much of this process is automated so that resources and applications are maintained in a state of readiness to support the users and the enterprise.

Solstice Enterprise Manager's collection of technology and application modules provides the needed functions to manage these events and processes. The major areas are:

Built on a foundation of client/server computing, the various modules can be distributed across systems and subnets within the enterprise. The software at this time requires Sun SPARC machines (SPARC 5 or better) with 64 megabytes of memory and at least 400 megabytes of disk space.

SUBHEAD The benefits of Solstice's technology architecture

Portable Management Interface
Management Information Server
Portable Management Interface
Protocol Management Driver Management Protocol Module

The modularity of the product is the foundation of the client/server architecture it supports. Beginning with the lowest level, Solstice Enterprise Manager supports the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) and Solstice Domain Manager RPC (which provides support for Solstice Domain Manager RPC agents, SNMP proxy agents, and DEC NICE proxy agents) through the Protocol Driver Module. The Common Management Information Protocol (CMIP) and other protocols are supported through the Management Protocol Adapter, which has a developer's kit to facilitate their integration.

Both the protocol Driver Module and the Management Protocol Adapter use the Portable Management Interface to communicate with the heart of the product, the Management Information Server. The Management Information Server acts as the information broker to the applications to manage the network. The applications also use the same Portable Management Interface to retrieve information about the network.

Through this architecture it is possible to distribute the management functions across different servers, allowing servers to reside closer to the devices and applications they support. Two important benefits derive from this choice -- network traffic across the wide area network is minimized by keeping event messages on the local area network or subnet; and second, the workload for any given server can be more evenly balanced to provide the highest levels of performance. This also provides a mechanism to physically assign management functions to personnel who are closer to the users and the network.

Consolidating the network into larger views is accomplished by mounting the root of each management server onto the higher-level server. In this way, the cascaded design allows events to move up the cascade without inundating other segments of the network with alarms they cannot act on or need not be concerned about.

How Solstice responds to trouble
One of the simpler functions that Solstice Enterprise Manager can perform is the automation of basic network troubleshooting tasks. When a router begins to fail, there are noticeable events and actions that can be taken to isolate and resolve the problem. In the event of a non-responding router, an initial timeout threshold can define an action to increase the threshold and wait to see if the router clears in that period. If it does not, then a second level alarm can be raised, and a new response, such as a ping to the device, can be initiated. If this action fails to correct the condition, the next-level response can be programmed into the system. This process can continue until it is necessary to involve a real person to resolve the problem.

Access control for applications is another area that is readily handled through Solstice Enterprise Manager. By defining access types (read versus write, etc.) for classes of users, applications can be more effectively secured by checking access control rights for each user requesting the application. This step consolidates the access rights tasks into a central location that alleviates individual application access systems. Instead, all programs can be written to use Solstice Enterprise Manager to manage access, freeing the programmer and program from future modification due to a change in access rights policy.

What enhancements are on the horizon?
The current version of Solstice Enterprise Manager defaults to using a flat file structure to log all events, although there is support for the use of Oracle, Informix, and Sybase databases. In a future release there will be a native relational database to support more complex data manipulation and reporting. This enhanced database functionality will improve the interface between Solstice Enterprise Manager and trend and event management analyzers like Forest and Trees.

There will be new support for online backups and disaster recovery of the network management information, plus support for replication services to improve management system uptime.

A bit farther into the future are more proactive tools to access and manage the health of the network. Built-in trending and event analysis will allow the management servers to identify problems before they surface as critical.

The solution will be ported to Windows NT and HP-UX to increase the market base of this solution. These ports will put the product into a head on competition with HP OpenView and the other solutions from IBM and Digital, bringing Sun back into the serious business of managing the enterprise.

These ports, according to William Leong, Sun product manager for Solstice Enterprise Manager, should be completed in the first half of 1997. The network health and trend enhancements do not have a target date for release -- these are features under consideration.

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About the author
Robert E. Lee is a technology consultant, speaker, columnist, and author who has been in the computer industry for 20 years. He specializes in networking, Internet strategies, systems analysis and design activities, and has participated in the Microsoft Windows NT and Internet Information Server betas since the start of those products. Reach Robert at

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