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Net management latest hot topic

Network management software is expected to top the agendas of many network infrastructure companies at next month's Networld+Interop trade show.

Industry trade shows often take on a certain theme, and this year at Networld+Interop, it appears everyone will be talking about network management software.

Management of far-flung networks has become an increasingly important item for network infrastructure companies to address. Though their primary focus may be the hardware that connects several sites together, a suite of software tools to manage these dispersed devices is often a "check mark" item for customers when they're weighing the benefits of a particular company.

Cisco Systems, Bay Networks, Ascend Communications, and 3Com will all roll into Atlanta next month sporting new software to handle the management and policy-based tasks many enterprise layouts are seeking.

In a long-anticipated move, Cisco embraced an Internet infrastructure in its bid to expand its presence in the network management software arena, announcing today an initiative called Assured Network Services (ANS). Currently, the company ships a variety of distinct management tools that manage the company's switches and routers--including CiscoWorks--but until now there has been no strategy to tie everything together.

Cisco officials said that ANS will become the common platform on which the company will build Web-based management applications for users who want to implement them for specific purposes or tie them into popular enterprise management software platforms such as Hewlett-Packard's OpenView or Computer Associates' Unicenter.

To that end, the company announced a new version of CiscoWorks for Switched Internetworks that is based on Java. Viewed through a browser, the revised functions include discovery agents that seek out networking hardware elements, policy-based correlation tools, support for local-area and ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) gear, and traffic monitoring tools that can follow network data flows.

Version 2.1 of CiscoWorks will be available in the fourth quarter of this year, with a price tag of $7,995 for the Windows NT version and $9,995 for Unix-based versions. The company also unveiled new accounting tools that allow network managers to determine network usage per user.

Cisco's moves follow a slew of network management-related announcements from Ascend, Bay, and 3Com. Ascend recently integrated the management tools it acquired through Cascade Communications to form a suite for policy-based management targeted at Internet service providers (ISPs), one of its high-profile target markets.

3Com also recently integrated tools to manage the remote access gear acquired in its merger with U.S. Robotics. And Bay rolled out a new version of its comprehensive Optivity suite of local- and wide-area management tools.

Analysts have said that a true network management strategy is still hard to implement for most managers because there are still so many disparate tools necessary to get the job done. Bay, Cisco, 3Com, and Ascend may be following the lead of Cabletron Systems, an internetworking company that has won numerous accolades for its Spectrum enterprise management software platform.