[The Net Works] [MultiMedia Schools]
January/February 2000
Copyright © Information Today, Inc.
 
Now That You Have a Network, How Do You Manage It?
by Rick Hillman
Technology Manager • Mercer County Special Services School District • Trenton, New Jersey

[logo]Anyone can be taught to pull wire and terminate it, but managing a working LAN/WAN is a more complex task.
 

Whether we like it or not, people such as technology coordinators, building technology experts, and media specialists are being asked to assume roles in school district network management that used to be given to an outside contractor.

The boom in wiring schools has created another challenge for those individuals who deliver technology services to children. Once we learned and mastered the complexities of printer and modem cables and whether the modem connection was at 2,400 baud and full duplex or half duplex; now we are learning and being asked to master yet another vocabulary, the vocabulary of networks. The network vocabulary has added words like, Ethernet, twisted pair, switches, hubs, and routers to our daily life.

As schools complete the wiring of classrooms, libraries, and offices, the focus shifts from building the network to managing it. And the job becomes more difficult. Anyone can be taught to pull wire and terminate it, but managing a working LAN/WAN is a more complex task, with a variety of management options.

Right now I am a department of one, just me, the technology director. I fix the printers that don’t print, replace the batteries, and manage the network too. So as a school or school district, how do we make informed choices in network management? The answer depends on each and every school. Although we share many things in common, the background and experience of each district’s staff is different. What I have chosen to do, and what I will share with you, is a combination approach.

Most networks now operate over Ethernet twisted pair cabling operating under the TCP/IP protocol. My district uses 3Com switches to distribute the network and has used both 3Com and Cisco routers. Whatever you use, be consistent. It helps that all the devices out there are the same interface, and you can learn to program and set up the devices. Then, based on what products you are using in your school, look at the vendor’s network management product.

In my district, because the majority of my network devices are 3Com, I use both Transcend Network Supervisor and Intermapper to manage my network.
I use Transcend for several reasons. First, it is free. You can download a demo at http://www.3com.com/products/trans_net_man.html. And in K-12 we know free is good, right?

Transcend Network Supervisor lets me keep track of all the switches and routers out on my network, lets me record traffic and other network statistics, and runs on a Windows 95/98/NT computer. It includes features that provide immediate notification of problems, provides a map of your network, and auto discovers devices on your network.

The benefit of a product such as Transcend Network Supervisor is having a visual map of the network with a visual indication of the status of particular devices. Green means it’s OK, red means it’s down. It can also prepare a graphic representation of the stress that a particular device is under. It shows the links from one device to another, and information about that device, such as IP address, MAC address, and other network data. And again, this product is available for free. Transcend Network Supervisor is the entry-level version in 3Com’s offerings of network management software.

Cisco Works is the entry-level version of Cisco’s network management software. It has features that use Castle Rock’ s SNMP Network Management System, which allow you to do auto network discovery, mapping, monitoring, and alarm tracking for any SNMP, Cisco, or third-party device. It includes a health monitor that provides real-time fault and performance monitoring of device statistics, including device characteristics, CPU utilization, interface activity, errors, and protocol information. In addition there is a configuration builder that allows users to create and distribute configuration files for multiple Cisco devices through a graphical user interface. It also includes CiscoView, Cisco’s graphical device-management technology, which is the standard for managing Cisco devices, providing back- and front-panel displays. These dynamic, color-coded graphical displays simplify device-status monitoring, device-specific component diagnostics, and application launching. CiscoView also provides additional applets that simplify the management of Cisco devices. For more information about Cisco Work, check out the Web site at http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/cc/cisco/mkt/enm/cworks/index.shtml.

Hewlett Packard’s network management system is Open View. HP’s Open View is also a graphical user interface and is usually included with HP or Dell NT Servers. The version that is given away is scaled down, but again monitors and manages similar information to both 3Com’s and Cisco’s products. For more information about HP’s Open View check out its Web site at http://www.openview.hp.com.

After looking at and trying all of these solutions, I came to the conclusion that what works best for me is using the free version of Transcend for managing the network routers and keeping traffic statistics. But for day-to-day, “keep me ahead of the problems” management, I use a piece of software written by Dartmouth College, called Intermapper.

Intermapper runs on a Macintosh. Network management on a Mac? Yes, network management on a Mac! It is easy to use, makes my job easier, and keeps me informed of those mission critical things in a K-12 network environment that don’t happen out in corporate America. You can download a demo of Intermapper at http://www.dartmouth.edu/netsoftware/intermapper/demoForm.html.

NBX Phone SystemWith Intermapper you can create multiple maps of your network and break the network down into segments. Once broken down, I can use those maps to manage a portion of the network. In my district, we have teachers who act as Building Level Coordinators for Technology. They have access to the section of the network that relates to their school, letting me share the management and monitoring functions. If there are problems, those individuals are generally the first ones to hear about it and can check the Intermapper software to see if there really is a breakdown.

In addition to monitoring routers, switches, and other network electronics equipment, by using Intermapper I can manage and keep track of anything with an IP address. In the building level segments, each computer and printer is on the network map. Therefore when the “I can’t print!” phone call or e-mail arrives, I am able to check whether or not the printer is really down without leaving my desk.

Intermapper also provides detailed statistics for each and every device on your network (see Figure 1). Besides monitoring whether or not a device is up or down, it can also monitor Web, e-mail, and FTP servers, and even verify that a pre-assigned user can log in or load a specific page. This is a great feature when the Web server or e-mail server software has crashed, but the server is still running. Intermapper can provide notifications of trouble via e-mail, sounds, or pager. I have it set up to page me and e-mail my secretary for problems during work hours. During off hours, it sends e-mail to me at home, and if it is a critical device such as a router or mail server having problems, it will send a text message to my cell phone. In addition to these features, it also includes a built-in Web server to allow remote access, and it is easy to get up and running.

Intermapper also maintains an event log, so I can know when problems occurred and determine if similar problems are related to each other. Overall, Intermapper is the product that makes network management easy in my schools and school district. Intermapper costs $395, but it has saved me that investment in preventing wasted time and in being able to quickly respond to a network problem before it becomes a network crisis. For more information on Intermapper, check out this page on Dartmouth’s Web site: http://www.dartmouth.edu/netsoftware/intermapper.
 
 

Site Name Address
3Com—Network Management  http://www.3com.com/products/trans_net_man.html
Cisco Network Management http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/cc/cisco/mkt/enm
HP Network Management http://www.openview.hp.com
Intermapper http://www.dartmouth.edu/netsoftware/intermapper
Glossary of Networking Terms

LAN—The Local Area Network connects computers, printers, and other devices, usually within the same building.

WAN—The Wide Area Network connects computers, printers, and sometimes other Local Area Networks (such as all buildings in a school district or corporation).

Ethernet—This is a method of connecting networked devices using special cabling that operates at faster speeds than normal (twisted pair) telephone wires. Sometimes called Category 5 (or Cat-5) cabling; speeds can reach 100 megabits per second.

TCP/IP—Transport Control Protocol/Internet Protocol is the “language” that allows all devices connected to the Internet to communicate with one another. (For more info, see http://whatis.com/ip.htm.)

Network switches—A switch is a network device that selects a path or circuit for sending a unit of data to its next destination. A switch may also include the function of the router, a device or program that can determine the route and specifically to which adjacent network point the data should be sent. In general, a switch is a simpler and faster mechanism than a router, which requires knowledge about the network and how to determine the route. (For more info, see http://whatis.com/switch.htm.)

Network routers—A router is a device or software that determines the next network point to which a packet should be forwarded toward its destination. A router is connected to at least two networks and decides which way to send each information packet based on its current understanding of the state of the networks to which it is connected. (For more info, see http://whatis.com/router.htm.)

IP address—The Internet Protocol (IP) address consists of the set of numbers assigned to identify every device on a network that speaks TCP/IP. These numbers are four sets of digits, typically separated by periods (ex 192.152.64.128) that ensure messages get to and from computers, printers, etc.

MAC address—On a local area network (LAN) or other network, the MAC (Media Access Control) address is your computer’s unique hardware number.

SNMP—The Simple Network Management Protocol is a standard that enables equipment from different manufacturers to be managed over a network.
 


 

Communications to the author may be addressed to Rick Hillman, Technology Manager, Mercer County Special Services School District, 1050 Old Trenton Road, Trailer 1, Trenton, NJ 08690; phone: 609/689-1852; fax 609/689-1854; e-mail: rick_hillman@mcsssd.mercernet.net.
 

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