Network management systems can consist of hardware, software, or a combination of both. They are often designed to monitor, analyze, and report on the activity of an enterprise computer network. A rules-based system is typically one in which individual components, such as switches and routers, are controlled one at a time, while a policy based system can manage all network resources using the Internet. Various configurations of network management systems are often available. The systems can also be products of large well-known companies or smaller Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), originate from open source projects in development, or consist of specialized electronic appliances.
In a centralized configuration, one area is devoted to system management and is where every device on the network typically sends data. Instructions are usually sent by only the one central station; if this component fails then there is generally no other part of the network that can take over. Network management systems can also be hierarchal, with each part typically able to manage a subset of devices belonging to the system. The subsets can be in the form of corporate departments or workgroups; if lower level parts fail, then other components can report the information.
Distributed network management systems generally have multiple components for controlling activity. If one central station goes down, then another can take on the same functions, as well as transfer the data from the part that failed. The distributed configuration is also suitable for data backup, while in a fully intact system, one control station can be used for centralized network management.
Large vendors often provide system for managing the network. These companies typically offer a large product catalog and components which are compatible with older equipment and technology. While the costs can be high, the systems can often be sized to the needs of the client company and multiple operating systems are usually supported. Alternative types of network management systems can come from ISVs. These are often less expensive for smaller businesses, but the equipment is sometimes only compatible with current products on the market.
The least expensive options are sometimes open source network management systems. With these, there is typically access to the source code so that companies can tailor the system to their own needs. Technical departments can also work in tandem with other developers to modify the system. It is also possible to resort to physical devices that connect to the network to monitor and analyze information at strategic locations. These are often useful in storing data, analyzing data traffic, and troubleshooting performance issues.