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Using WAP Devices as NMS Consoles
Using WAP Devices as NMS Consoles

Computer networks are rapidly becoming the backbone of large- and medium-sized organizations. Increasingly, organizations are depending on their networks for day-to-day operations. To maintain the health of their networks, companies spend large amounts of money acquiring expensive network management software solutions. These solutions are useful as long as the network administrator is available at the network management software's console to take reactive/proactive measures to solve future/present critical conditions in the network.

A wireless handheld console can make the network management software (NMS) data always accessible to the network administrator (NA), enabling him or her to fix network-related problems even when on the move. In this article I discuss how the emerging WAP-based devices can be used as an always-available console for your network management solutions.

About NMS

NMS, based on the client/server model, acts as a client and the network entities act as the servers. The network entities, such as routers, switches, and bridges, contain software that's known as Agent. Agent monitors the activity of the device and stores all the information in the system memory. The information that's gathered is placed into registers that correspond to each of the variables defined in the management information block (MIB) of that particular device. Each network element maintains a database of information about itself called an MIB. If  a critical condition arises in the device, it sends out a notification message - known as a trap - to the manager. After receiving the trap, NMS reflects this abnormal condition in the device. The most widely used protocol for Agent and NMS interaction is Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). Network management software is used by the network administrators to perform a variety of network-related tasks such as configuring devices, obtaining network statistics, and monitoring the health of the network. The most important task is to maintain the health of the network and keep it up and running. Numerous conditions can result in a network outage, such as a switch's interface going down, a breakup in cable, or network congestion.

NMS reflects this critical condition in the network or device on their console. They obtain this information by trying to contact the various network entities at regular intervals. NMS also provides facilities such as paging, phone, and e-mail to alert the network administrator of such situations in case the network admin is at a remote location. The difficulty arises when the network admin is made aware of a problem in the network but isn't anywhere near an NMS console to obtain more information, identify a solution, or respond in any way to the critical condition. Although the NMS comes with lots of built-in intelligence, most of the time it's the NA who has to identify what corrective measures should be taken. To solve the problem, the NA has to be in front of the NMS console to obtain more information. The NMS provides the NA with probable solutions for the problem, but in the end he or she is the one who has to perform the corrective action.

When the NA can't get to the NMS console after receiving notification about a network problem, the company may suffer heavy losses, depending on the scale of the problem.

Rescued by WAP

Wireless Application Protocol provides wireless devices, such as cell phones and PDAs, with the ability to access data networks (Internet and intranets). The Wireless Application Environment specification lays down the guidelines for developing applications for the WAP environment. All the major cell phone, PDA, and other wireless device manufacturers have launched various WAP-capable devices. They're rapidly adding vastly enhanced capabilities to these devices, making them mature platforms for advanced application development.

This advancement in WAP-capable devices makes them suitable for use as NMS consoles. They add value to existing NMS platforms by making them available to the NA anywhere, anytime. This solves the previously stated problem of accessibility to the NMS console, making it accessible to the NA on the move. With this functionality the NA can always be in contact with the NMS; thus the network can be under better surveillance.

High-Level Architecture for WAP/NMS Integration

Various architectures can be adopted to WAP-enable NMS systems. Additional capability will need to be added to alert the NA using the registered WAP clients. (An NA can register multiple WAP devices with the NMS system that receives alerts in case there's a critical condition in the network.)

Existing NMS Systems

Existing NMS can be made WAP capable by developing adapter modules that will extract the data from the NMS and convert it to a form suitable for displaying on WAP-capable devices. In addition, the adapter module should package WMLScript along with the content so the NA can perform actions based on the network data presented. Various architectures can be used to obtain and display data from the NMS to the WAP device; it'll vary slightly depending on the specific NMS platform.

The most common way for third-party developers to do this would be to use the API that's normally shipped with most of the popular NMSs. Using this API, network-related information can be extracted from the NMS. This data can be converted to a form that would be suitable for the WAP gateway. Most of the data will be stored in an XML format, which helps if other tools are reading the data obtained from the NMS. The advantages of XML are apparent. Using an XML-to-WML converter, the data can be converted to WML. The WAP gateway then transmits this information over the wireless network to the WAP devices (see Figure 1).

In the near future we should see NMS-developing companies incorporating the WAP gateway server as an integral part of the NMS engine, seamlessly providing access to NMS data from any location without any adapter modules (see Figure 2).

If the NMS already has a Web-based front end (some present-day NMS "comes along" with a Web-based interface), a WML converter can be used to convert this content into WML format for display over the WAP devices, or the CGI that extracts data from the NMS can be customized to output data in WML format (see Figure 3).

No matter what architecture is used on the server side, the WAP client will be presented with NMS information in WML form. Network entities can be represented using the WBMP image format followed by the radio button, checkbox-type list of operations that can be performed on the displayed network entity. The NA can then select what operation to perform on the network entity. This request will be sent out to the NMS by the actions defined using WMLScript.

Advantage of WAP Console

With the system in place, the NA can always be connected to the Enterprise NMS, and will be able to monitor the network closely and remotely fix problems in case of emergency. Using the information, the NA can then perform corrective measures or ask for more information by using WMLScript, which provides the ability to add client-side procedural logic to WML pages. Based on the data viewed over a WAP device, the NA can fire an action using the client-side intelligence that was added with the help of WMLScript.

Considerations
 

  • The latency of a wireless network can cause a delay in the display of rapid changes in a network.
  • Since the display capability of a normal WAP device is small, not all the information about a network entity can be displayed at an instance.
  • Low bandwidth of the wireless network results in longer request and response time periods.
  • The microbrowsers in the WAP devices define a limit for the size of a WML document; this limit varies from device to device.
  • Push architecture is necessary for the NMS to send data to the NS's WAP device in case of network emergencies.
Conclusion

Now that organizations are relying more and more on their network-dependent computers to keep them informed and ahead of the competition, the load comes down on the NMS and the NA to make sure this system is always up and running. With service-level management becoming mainstream, their responsibilities are ever increasing. To keep up with these requirements the NA needs to be able to access the NMS more than ever. A WAP-based console for the NMS system is the ideal solution.

As the WAP technology develops and more features become available, the credibility of the WAP-based console for the NMS will become more evident.

References

1. WAP Forum: www.wapforum.com
2. Spectrum NMS: www.aprisma.com
3. Unicenter TNG NMS: www.ca.com
4. Openview NMS: www.hp.com

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