Network Analysts and Consultants
"We Have the Experience"
ViewsLetter on Provisioning
24 Sept. 2002
IF MANUAL CONFIGURATION IS OUT,
DOES EACH BOX NEED A GUI (OR
We could say "no" and jump to the credits, but then we'd miss what is
actually happening, which may interest you.
In most operations centers today, you can easily find an engineer or
technician who prefers to use the Command Line Interface to configure
troubleshoot a network element (a/k/a "a box"). "I can jump on any
with a terminal emulator and Telnet to do the job quickly."
Recall, however, that "quickly" comes only after "slowly," which describes
the speed of acquiring the knowledge needed to use the CLI. Standard
classes for configuring routers run into many weeks of full-time
attendance (away from work).
In some cases the CLI may be necessary, as other avenues of control (for
example, Simple Network Management Protocol, SNMP) may not have all the
functionality of the CLI. A step up from the CLI is the Graphical
Interface (GUI), provided either as a feature on the "box" itself or as
software on a workstation or PC, separate from the network element (NE).
Again, the GUI may not be current with the CLI, but it looks good in
demonstrations and at tradeshows.
But the question before us is: How useful is the GUI for managing
single device in a large network? Should a vendor build a GUI into
TWO WHO DON'T:
VENDORS OFFER HARDWARE WITHOUT A GUI
Looking ahead to large, centrally managed networks under automated
provisioning systems, it's hard to see enough value to justify the
development effort for a fancy, single-device craft interface. If
network operator has accepted automation in provisioning (which the
ViewsLetter assumes is inevitable), then the operations staff will have
accept the use of software tools to manage services on that network.
The man-machine interface will be from the Operations and Support System
(OSS), not the network element. So the NE needs only a machine-machine
interface, preferably one based on public standards such as SNMP.
Two companies recently confirmed they are looking ahead to the next level
of managed networks by announcing products with no GUI. One of them
offers no CLI either.
Caspian Networks (www.caspiannetworks.com) is still in startup mode;
their very large IP switch won't reach general availability until 2003.
But their chief technical officer, founder, and long-time Internet guru
Lawrence Roberts hasn't been shy about the company's intention to build
for "the new Internet." In part, that means automation to provision
just connectivity, but higher-level services that can compete with
connection-oriented networks in terms of quality of service assurances.
More on that later, because they aren't yet talking about their methods.
In that new Internet, says Roberts, automated management will be the norm.
This packet switch is designed to receive its configurations via
XML (eXtensible Markup Language), or other standard interface such as
CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture). As a result,
product doesn't need a GUI for a man-machine interface.
The switch doesn't need a CLI, either, but for the comfort of technicians,
the Caspian product has one. However, it is not the primary control
method, but merely one of many that can access the configuration data
through an intermediate software interface. In other words, none
access methods will fall behind or get ahead of any other--specifically,
SNMP won't fall behind the CLI. With this architecture, one of the
justifications for having a CLI disappears.
Encore Networks (www.encorenetworks.com) goes further. This maker
integrated access devices and IP "router appliances" (with firewall, VPN
encryption, Network Address Translation, CSU/DSU, and a basket of other
features) wants to provide the customer premises equipment for managed
carrier services (or large enterprise networks). In that environment,
normal configuration is done by the central operations center.
An occasion that requires local configuration will mean something unusual
(meaning bad) has happened and a field service technician had to be
dispatched to a remote site. That technician should almost never
work with these boxes individually, and thus reasonably could be
unfamiliar with their CLI. So Encore omits the CLI and in-box
Instead, the primary control method is SNMP, with extensions to the
standard Management Information Bases (MIBs). Encore also offers
menu on the serial craft interface and via Telnet. The NE presents
numbered list for each configuration selection. The technician responds
with a single character input to make each choice (or an entry like an
address). Any good tech should be able to pick from the menu options,
with no additional training. Because the commands form an ASCII
string, an operation can be scripted in much the same way as a CLI.
So we see (if we squint just right) the first moves toward products that
will downplay or eliminate man-machine interfaces on the box itself.
Operations will rely on management software tools.
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Updated: 11 June 2003