This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala's blog.

Keeping the company network up and running is, by far, the most important task that a network manager has today. However, the largest cause of downtime is actually self-inflicted. ZK Research recently ran a survey that asked what the primary cause of downtime with networks is today, and the No. 1 response was “human error,” with 29% of the 1,320 respondents citing this as the top issue. This is down from the 37% that my research showed a couple of years ago, but it’s still top dog.

There are a number of reasons why human error causes downtime, and they all tend to revolve around the fact that network managers typically have very poor visibility holistically across the network. Additionally, change management, documenting processes and auditing tends to done on an ad hoc basis. Some do it well, but most don’t. Now, in many ways, this really isn’t the fault of the IT department, as the tools to manage network changes and to see what’s going on with the network also tend to be pretty poor.

Last week, ActionPacked Networks announced the 3.1 version of its LiveAction network management product to address some of these issues in Cisco environments. ActionPacked Networks is a Cisco Developer Network partner and has added a number of new features to improve the visibility and manageability of Cisco networks.

One of the more interesting enhancements is the Configuration Change Audit Trail that tracks who makes what update to which network device. Often, network changes are made during times of “fire fighting” and the operations team is trying to make quick changes to get things back up and running. By the time the issue is resolved, it’s often difficult to go back and try and remember all the changes to document correctly. The Audit Trail feature in Live Action can do this automatically. This can help network managers quickly identify and fix the 29% of outages that are caused by configuration errors. This feature is also important for proof of updates for compliance purposes in regulated environments.

Another helpful feature is the hop-by-hop visibility and analysis for Cisco Medianet. For those who aren’t familiar with Medianet, it’s Cisco’s architecture for high-quality, pervasive multi-media and includes endpoints, cloud services, the network and applications. Because of the breadth of Medianet, it can be hard to have end-to-end visibility of the environment, making it very difficult to troubleshoot. Cisco does have some of its own tools, but those tend to focus on the devices and not the network in its entirety. LiveAction 3.1 isolates problems by visualizing Medianet performance monitor (PerfMon) and showing QoS metrics at every hop. This can help isolate where the problem is, which is often the majority of time taken in solving problems.

Additionally, Action Packed has beefed up the alerts so they are now context aware. Now network managers can look for specific flows or other relevant data to isolate what problems are, what services are involved and where the issues may be.

Mobility, BYOD, software defined networks, convergence and other factors are making the network more complicated, making management more important. However, you can’t manage what you can’t, see so taking the blinders off the network should be an important initiative for IT leaders. The new LiveAction 3.1 has a number of new enhancements that improve visibility and manageability. Perhaps Santa will leave a copy in the data centers of all those of you who have been good this year!

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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