In the era of the cloud one thing both MSPs and their customers can agree on is that network management has become more complex. In fact, a dizzying array of emerging networking technologies are threatening to create silos that could potentially make managing networks in the era of the cloud much more expensive than it really needs to be.

The Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) is trying to fill that network management void with a new Network Management (NETMAN) Initiative intended to unify network management. The intiative is intended to provide a suite of interoperability standards that will make it simpler to manage multiple types of software-defined networks and associated infrastructure, according to DMTF president Jeff Hilland. He says NETMAN will provide the management models and interfaces need to create a consistent framework to unify and automate provisioning, deployment, configuration, and monitoring of network environments.

NETMAN gets big league support

The NETMAN Initiative is currently drawing support from Broadcom, Hitachi, Microsoft, WS, Inc. and ZTE. Hilland, who in addition to currently serving as the president of DMTF also works for Hewlett-Packard, says that when you look at network management these days it’s clear that a core set of protocols and object models are already being shared by all of them. Any extensions to those object models can then be viewed as a subclass of the core NETMAN framework that could be more easily managed, says Hilliand.

That challenge, says Hilland, is that MSPs and their customers need to demand that network management technologies they deploy adhere to a standard framework. That framework should promote interoperability at a time when new technologies such as network virtualization and software-defined networks (SDNs) are evolving in ways that often contain potentially proprietary data types and models.

Reducing networking's costs

Ultimately, Hilland says the goal is to reduce the cost of switching out both IT infrastructure and software required to manage it. In fact, Hilland views NETMAN as a natural complement to the move towards Network Function Virtualization (NFV) environments aimed at turning more network functions into highly portable modules of software.

In the months ahead there will be a lot of blustering over cloud management interoperability in the wake of the rise of new management frameworks such as OpenStack. But none of that is going to be worth much to MSPs unless network management is unified at a lower level. The good news is that standards bodies such as DMTF are trying to force the issue. The bad news is that it may take a while before the entire networking community falls into line.

Mike Vizard is a veteran IT journalist, former Editor in Chief of CRN and InfoWorld, and an IT industry market expert who has chronicled the information technology revolution over many decades, from DEC to Google.