The Internet Protocol Journal - Volume 7, Number 2

Book Review

Network Management
Network Management, MIBs and MPLS by Stephen B. Morris, ISBN 0131011138, Prentice Hall, June 2003.

Few people would question the need for good network management, and books about the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) have been circulating for more than ten years now. But the key differentiator of this book is well recognized in its title—it's about SNMP in the context of a Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network. MPLS is now recognized as the convergence technology, and an increasing number of mission-critical services are being deployed over it. World-class network management is vital to keep these services running to the "five nines" level we've all come to expect.

Organization
In this book, Stephen Morris offers a very approachable and comprehensive look at SNMP and the methodology behind the all-important Management Information Base (MIB). The first chapter gives the obligatory justification for network management and sets the scene nicely for the rest of the book.

It's amazing to think that SNMP has been around since the late 1980s, and yet if you ask any MPLS operations person, the odds are that person is still using a Command-Line Interface (CLI) to actually configure boxes. CLI is a man-machine interface, not a machine-machine interface like SNMP. Even centralized provisioning platforms, such as the former Orchestream (now Metasolve) VPN Manager, simply created a friendly Graphical User Interface (GUI) front end for the provisioning procedure, and then ran CLI scripts frantically in the background. The drawbacks of CLI configuration are too numerous to list here, but the basic solution to the problem is to create a scalable and secure machine-to-machine interface. In the IP world the candidate technology for this is SNMPv3, and Morris discusses both the MIB structure (the key to scalability) and the security model in Chapter 2. Because premium MPLSbased services demand secure and robust provisioning, SNMPv3 is the technology of choice.

Chapter 3 describes what Morris calls the "Network Management Problem," although in fact this is described as a whole set of problems, some of which are caused by deficiencies in the SNMP architecture, whereas others are caused by the scale and pace of operations in a modern network. A specific problem that Morris addresses very sensibly is the way that the rapid pace of network technology development impacts the ability to manage these networks. In other words, new technologies tend to appear too quickly for management mechanisms to be optimized for these protocols. To solve this problem, Morris (a software engineer by training) presents a series of "Linked Overviews" (these describe the properties of a given network technology—MPLS, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), etc.—in a procedural framework. In essence this is a kind of recipe for the software developer. In addition, the text is liberally sprinkled with "Developers Notes" that I'm sure will provide invaluable help for people trying to write management system code.

Chapter 4 then takes the approach of solving the "Network Management Problem" to a higher, and perhaps longer-term level, with the proposed development of smarter network management components and more integrated data frameworks. This culminates in a description of Directory Enabled Networking, a technology that seemed to flower briefly in the context of network management a few years ago, but then was buried when the telecom recession hit the industry. My own feeling is that the time is right for a rebirth of this approach in modern, converged networks.

Chapter 5 looks at some real Network Management System (NMS) issues, using the HP OpenView Network Node Manager as a worked example. Morris is quick to point out that this is not an endorsement of the product, but because it is the most well-known and widely used product in this class, it is the logical choice.

Chapters 6 and 7 look at software components, and Morris's background in software development shines through here in the level of detail, coupled with well-structured explanations.

Chapter 8 describes a very useful case study of using SNMP to provision a tunnel through an MPLS network—a task that is typically performed today using crude CLI techniques.

Chapter 9 contrasts theory and practice in network management, and deals with the loose ends of various topics such as end-to-end security and the integration of a third-party Open Source Software (OSS) using standardized northbound Element Management System (EMS) interfaces.

Recommended
Overall this is an excellent book that really does deliver what it claims—a comprehensive and practical look at the latest SNMP technologies and techniques. In this regard it stays highly focused, and doesn't waste time with irrelevant discussion on other topics. For example, at first I was disappointed to note that only a page or two of brief explanation is devoted to topics such as Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) and Extensible Markup Language (XML). But in the context of what this book is trying to tell us, it makes perfect sense. Each of these topics really needs its own book to cover the topic in similar detail to Morris's work.

Similarly, if you're expecting a description of emerging IP/MPLS Operations, Administration, and Maintenance (OA&M), then this book is not for you. Again, I would defend Morris's use of Occam's Razor because OA&M protocols are usually demanded by network staff, and not by OSS operatives. In my own opinion, this situation will gradually change in the next few years, as OA&M is recognized as the "eyes and ears" of the OSS. Perhaps this would be a good place for Mr. Morris to start his next book.

—Geoff Bennett, Heavy Reading
bennett@heavyreading.com