"This year, we expect that the most important metric for SLM will be service availability," says Morency, in Lincoln, Mass., noting that e-mail is considered a service, as is an ERP application, along with getting reliable and predictable Internet access. "Service availability is understanding the level of available support for an application and supporting components, such as servers, LAN infrastructure, and subnets such as a Frame Relay backbone," he says.
According to IDC's Rainge, the market for SLM software was $130 million in vendor revenue in 1998, an increase of more than 90% from 1997. Some of the 50-plus players who have emerged on the scene in the past 18 to 24 months include Compuware Corp., of Farmington Hills, Mich.; DeskTalk Systems Inc., of Torrance, Calif.; the InSoft product division of International Network Services, of Sunnyvale, Calif.; and Micromuse Inc., of San Francisco.
Industry observers say the three areas of functionality these and other SLM vendors tend to support are policy enforcement on the network, network problem identification in real-time (which allows network administrators to prioritize breakage by service), and performance monitoring and compliance reporting.
However, officials say SLM technology isn't multifunctional at this point and vendors tend to support only one particular area, although Morency believes in time, users can expect to see product consolidation with vendors trying to develop comprehensive network/SLM frameworks.
Diagnosing the network
The value of SLM software in an environment architected for redundancy and resiliency was proved recently when the hospital experienced rapid growth in its operating room (OR) department. To help manage this growth, the network group added new clinical applications. It implemented an SLM tool in September, 1998 to quickly identify network traffic increases in the OR and to respond by giving the department more bandwidth and the fast performance it needs.
"With SLM we can look at the departments ahead of time to see if there's a need to add bandwidth to optimize application performance," says Hutchinson.
The network group also uses SLM tools to ensure departmental service-level agreements are met. Since the hospital operates as a nonprofit institution and there's no traditional charge-back between IT and the departments, fulfillment of these agreements is as important as monitoring and managing the network.
"The hospital's departments have a variety of network needs, and we have to justify our existence every day," says Hutchinson.
To that end, Hutchinson set out early last year to find a baseline tool set that would help his group measure a variety of network metrics and better understand how the network is running. In addition, this tool set would help Hutchinson and the network group become more proactive in the management of and capacity planning for the hospital's network.
The tool that met all of Hutchinson's criteria was the Street Savvy Software, or S3 products, from NextPoint Networks, of Westford, Mass. Both Web and Java based, the S3 products run on Windows NT. The tools aggregate data flow and create reports, which allow the network group to do historical analysis for budgeting and preplanning, Hutchinson says. Previously, the department obtained baseline network information manually, a process that entailed going from network connection to network connection. Before selecting NextPoint's tools Hutchinson reviewed products from Concord Communications, of Marlborough, Mass., and Ganymede Software Inc., of Morrisville, N.C.
Today, Hutchinson is finding the benefits of SLM tools are plentiful, and include the ability to proactively identify problems; the ability to uncover problems that were previously routinely missed using manual methods; the Web-based tools allows network administrators to dial in from off-site locations and monitor the network 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"My staff is more productive using SLM tools. We're not running around fighting fires, but rather, when we see a glaring issue we can schedule it into the workflow. We work more logically and professionally," says Hutchinson.