The death of the network manager has been greatly exaggerated, according to a panel of industry experts.
Despite grim predictions that the rise of application service providers (ASPs) and the increasing use of outsourcing services by businesses will make the role redundant, it seems network managers can look forward to a healthy future.
At a round table debate held at Networks Telecom, industry heavyweights agreed there would still be jobs on-site, even if work is outsourced to ASPs.
The panel consisted of Andy Reid, director of computing services at Eton College; Laki Marangos, communications manager at Merrill Lynch; Malcolm Skinner, product marketing manager at Axent; David Rae, technology editor of Network News; Chris Lee, managing director of Lucent's Wan systems group for Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Shel Musiker, vice president at NetReality.
A hands-on job
The panel decided that the role of network manager is too important to be handled by someone not stationed on a company's premises. "They may have people from an outsourced agency providing the network management, but they would probably work within the company because the role is one that you need to have in-house," said Reid.
Some of the panel felt that the network management role should not be left to outsourcers at all. "Where you're merging server management with the network, cabling and everything else, it is too much in the heart of the company's livelihood to outsource," said Marangos. "Mainframe outsourcing was easy because you had all your mips in one box. Now you've got mega mips spread around the organisation, so how do you manage that environment without the network manager as one of the key individuals?"
However, he added that companies will view networks, which are much more stable than they used to be, as an easy target for outsourcing and cost cutting.
The panel felt that the role of the network manager has become much more specialised over the years as the industry has changed and evolved. "Network managers have evolved their role," said Reid. "When I started, you managed boxes, cabling and so forth and you ended up managing services. If you now manage outsourced services I suspect you'll just go on doing the same thing,"
Skinner, who used to work as a support manager before joining Axent, confirmed that the role had been narrowed over the years. "In those days you didn't just look after the network - you had the applications, the printers, the whole gamut to look after. Network management is far more specialised now," he said.
However, Skinner added that the role is even more important today, as businesses move to the web and so are increasingly reliant on the network being up and running.
Playing with hardware
Lee said that the trend towards outsourcing would see traditional network managers assuming more of a business role, managing a company's external communications with its customers and suppliers.
But Marangos thought this would be unacceptable to those who liked working purely with technology.
"Some people working within network management want to stay playing with hardware. They don't want to do proposals or turn into marketeers and businessmen, so they are the ones that may find there's a better future working for the ISPs and ASPs," he said.
Skinner said if a company did outsource its services, the network manager's role would be crucial to the business. "You need to have somebody who will be the interface between an organisation and the ASP or the ISP. This is a role that network managers can fulfil because they know what the business needs," he said.
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