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What Is Network Management?

Network management is the process of administering, managing, and operating a data network, using a network management system. Modern network management systems use software and hardware to constantly collect and analyze data and push out configuration changes for improving performance, reliability, and security.

How does a network management system do its job?

The system manages network devices such as switches, routers, access points, and wireless controllers. It typically uses a centralized server to collect data from network elements. The server can be located on-premises, in a private data center, or in the cloud.

Devices, clients, and applications on the network can send data to the server with updates about their status. Network administrators can monitor network operations by logging in to the server, usually through a web browser or a smartphone app.

How do network elements send data to the system?

Networking devices, such as routers and switches, and network endpoints, such as computers, smartphones, cameras, machines, and sensors, typically send data to the system in one of two ways:

  • SNMP: The Simple Network Management Protocol is an open standard and has been the de facto network management protocol since the early 1990s. It is widely supported by most manufacturers of network elements. The network management system uses SNMP to "poll" each element in the network. Each element then sends a response to the system.
  • Telemetry: A software agent installed in a network element allows for the automatic transmission of key performance indicators in real time. Telemetry is rapidly replacing SNMP, because it is more efficient, can produce many more data points, and is more scalable. And telemetry standards, such as NETCONF/YANG, are gaining traction as ways to offer the same multivendor support as SNMP.

Benefits: Cloud-based versus on-premises systems


Lower costs, more agility

Cloud-based network management systems typically have low startup costs for users, since they do not require local servers. These systems also enhance IT agility, since they offer IT teams easy access from anywhere.


Better performance, more security

On-premises servers offer greatly increased performance for larger campus networks, especially when assurance, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are included in the network management system. A local server also offers greater security for network data, since everything is stored onsite.

Downsides to on-premises systems

There are some downsides to using on-premises network management systems. For example, remote access to the server requires a VPN connection. So, an on-premises server cannot provide the same level of IT-team agility as a cloud-based server, especially for dispersed teams in branch offices.

Also, network administration for on-premises systems is resource-intensive. It includes installing, maintaining, and upgrading the hardware and software necessary to keep the network running optimally.

Subscription-based enhancements

Modern networks are growing exponentially and becoming much more functionally complex. As a result, many network management systems are being enhanced with modules that provide automation, assurance, analytics, machine reasoning, full network controllers, and AI and ML.

Some key benefits of these modules are:

  • Network performance and security automation. AI and ML usage means a network management system can prioritize incoming information by its importance to network performance and security.
  • Less auditing time. IT teams receive only relevant alerts from the system, so they don't need to scan long system reports for anomalies.
  • Cost-effective consumption. Many vendors of network management systems offer software subscriptions. Users can subscribe to modules that deliver value where and when they need it.
  • Automatic delivery of new features and benefits. With subscriptions automatically updating modules, users enjoy an evergreen supply of functionality and security.

Characteristics of a modern network management system

Network automation

One defining characteristic of a modern network management system is network automation. This is the process of automating the configuring, managing, testing, deploying, and operating of physical and virtual devices within a network. Network service availability improves when everyday network tasks and functions are automated and repetitive processes are controlled and managed automatically.

Explore Cisco DNA automation

Network assurance

Network assurance features are often included in modern network management systems. These features help enhance network performance, user experience, and security. Assurance systems often use network analytics, application analytics, and policy analytics as well as AI and ML to achieve full network assurance.

Explore Cisco DNA Assurance

Network analytics

Network analytics is a software engine that compares incoming data against preprogrammed operational models and makes functional decisions for improving network performance.

Explore Cisco AI Network Analytics