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Essay/Term paper: Cmip vs. snmp : network management

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Information Technology

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CMIP vs. SNMP : Network Management

Imagine yourself as a network administrator, responsible for a 2000 user
network. This network reaches from California to New York, and some branches
over seas. In this situation, anything can, and usually does go wrong, but it
would be your job as a system administrator to resolve the problem with it
arises as quickly as possible. The last thing you would want is for your boss
to call you up, asking why you haven't done anything to fix the 2 major systems
that have been down for several hours. How do you explain to him that you
didn't even know about it? Would you even want to tell him that? So now,
picture yourself in the same situation, only this time, you were using a network
monitoring program. Sitting in front of a large screen displaying a map of the
world, leaning back gently in your chair. A gentle warning tone sounds, and
looking at your display, you see that California is now glowing a soft red in
color, in place of the green glow just moments before. You select the state of
California, and it zooms in for a closer look. You see a network diagram
overview of all the computers your company has within California. Two systems
are flashing, with an X on top of them indicating that they are experiencing
problems. Tagging the two systems, you press enter, and with a flash, the screen
displays all the statitics of the two systems, including anything they might
have in common causing the problem. Seeing that both systems are linked to the
same card of a network switch, you pick up the phone and give that branch office
a call, notifying them not only that they have a problem, but how to fix it as
Early in the days of computers, a central computer (called a mainframe) was
connected to a bunch of dumb terminals using a standard copper wire. Not much
thought was put into how this was done because there was only one way to do it:
they were either connected, or they weren't. Figure 1 shows a diagram of these
early systems. If something went wrong with this type of system, it was fairly
easy to troubleshoot, the blame almost always fell on the mainframe system.
Shortly after the introduction of Personal Computers (PC), came Local Area
Networks (LANS), forever changing the way in which we look at networked systems.
LANS originally consisted of just PC's connected into groups of computers, but
soon after, there came a need to connect those individual LANS together forming
what is known as a Wide Area Network, or WAN, the result was a complex
connection of computers joined together using various types of interfaces and
protocols. Figure 2 shows a modern day WAN. Last year, a survey of Fortune 500
companies showed that 15% of their total computer budget, 1.6 Million dollars,
was spent on network management (Rose, 115). Because of this, much attention
has focused on two families of network management protocols: The Simple Network
Management Protocol (SNMP), which comes from a de facto standards based
background of TCP/IP communication, and the Common Management Information
Protocol (CMIP), which derives from a de jure standards-based background
associated with the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) (Fisher, 183).

In this report I will cover advantages and disadvantages of both Common
Management Information Protocol (CMIP) and Simple Network Management Protocol
(SNMP)., as well as discuss a new protocol for the future. I will also give
some good reasons supporting why I believe that SNMP is a protocol that all
network administrators should use.
SNMP is a protocol that enables a management station to configure, monitor,
and receive trap (alarm) messages from network devices. (Feit, 12). It is
formally specified in a series of related Request for Comment (RFC) documents,
listed here.
RFC 1089 - SNMP over Ethernet
RFC 1140 - IAB Official Protocol Standards
RFC 1147 - Tools for Monitoring and Debugging TCP/IP
Internets and Interconnected Devices
[superceded by RFC 1470]
RFC 1155 - Structure and Identification of Management
Information for TCP/IP based internets.
RFC 1156 - Management Information Base Network
Management of TCP/IP based internets
RFC 1157 - A Simple Network Management Protocol
RFC 1158 - Management Information Base Network
Management of TCP/IP based internets: MIB-II
RFC 1161 - SNMP over OSI
RFC 1212 - Concise MIB Definitions
RFC 1213 - Management Information Base for Network Management
of TCP/IP-based internets: MIB-II
RFC 1215 - A Convention for Defining Traps for use with the SNMP
RFC 1298 - SNMP over IPX (SNMP, Part 1 of 2, I.1.)
The first protocol developed was the Simple Network Management Protocol
(SNMP). It was commonly considered to be a quickly designed "band-aid" solution
to internetwork management difficulties while other, larger and better protocols
were being designed. (Miller, 46). However, no better choice became available,
and SNMP soon became the network management protocol of choice.
It works very simply (as the name suggests): it exchanges network packets
through messages (known as protocol data units (PDU)). The PDU contains
variables that have both titles and values. There are five types of PDU's
which SNMP uses to monitor a network: two deal with reading terminal data, two
with setting terminal data, and one called the trap, used for monitoring network
events, such as terminal start-ups or shut-downs.
By far the largest advantage of SNMP over CMIP is that its design is simple,
so it is as easy to use on a small network as well as on a large one, with ease
of setup, and lack of stress on system resources. Also, the simple design makes
it simple for the user to program system variables that they would like to
monitor. Another major advantage to SNMP is that is in wide use today around
the world. Because of it's development during a time when no other protocol of
this type existed, it became very popular, and is a built in protocol supported
by most major vendors of networking hardware, such as hubs, bridges, and routers,
as well as majoring operating systems. It has even been put to use inside the
Coca-Cola machines at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California (Borsook,
48). Because of SNMP's smaller size, it has even been implemented in such
devices as toasters, compact disc players, and battery-operated barking dogs.
In the 1990 Interop show, John Romkey, vice president of engineering for
Epilogue, demonstrated that through an SNMP program running on a PC, you could
control a standard toaster through a network (Miller, 57).
SNMP is by no means a perfect network manager. But because of it's simple
design, these flaws can be fixed. The first problem realized by most companies
is that there are some rather large security problems related with SNMP. Any
decent hacker can easily access SNMP information, giving them any information
about the network, and also the ability to potentially shut down systems on the
network. The latest version of SNMP, called SNMPv2, has added some security
measures that were left out of SNMP, to combat the 3 largest problems plaguing
SNMP: Privacy of Data (to prevent intruders from gaining access to information
carried along the network), authentication (to prevent intruders from sending
false data across the network), and access control (which restricts access of
particular variables to certain users, thus removing the possibility of a user
accidentally crashing the network). (Stallings, 213)
The largest problem with SNMP, ironically enough, is the same thing that
made it great; it's simple design. Because it is so simple, the information it
deals with is neither detailed, nor well organized enough to deal with the
growing networks of the 1990's. This is mainly due to the quick creation of SNMP,
because it was never designed to be the network management protocol of the
1990's. Like the previous flaw, this one too has been corrected with the new
version, SNMPv2. This new version allows for more in-detail specification of
variables, including the use of the table data structure for easier data
retrieval. Also added are two new PDU's that are used to manipulate the tabled
objects. In fact, so many new features have been added that the formal
specifications for SNMP have expanded from 36 pages (with v1) to 416 pages with
SNMPv2. (Stallings, 153) Some people might say that SNMPv2 has lost the
simplicity, but the truth is that the changes were necessary, and could not have
been avoided.
A management station relies on the agent at a device to retrieve or update
the information at the device. The information is viewed as a logical database,
called a Management Information Base, or MIB. MIB modules describe MIB variables
for a large variety of device types, computer hardware, and software components.
The original MIB for Managing a TCP/IP internet (now called MIB-I) was defined
in RFC 1066 in August of 1988. It was updated in RFC 1156 in May of 1990. The
MIB-II version published in RFC 1213 in May of 1991, contained some improvements,
and has proved that it can do a good job of meeting basic TCP/IP management
needs. MIB-II added many useful variables missing from MIB-I (Feit, 85). MIB
files are common variables used not only by SNMP, but CMIP as well.
In the late 1980's a project began, funded by governments, and large
corporations. Common Management Information Protocol (CMIP) was born. Many
thought that because of it's nearly infinite development budget, that it would
quickly become in widespread use, and overthrow SNMP from it's throne.
Unfortunately, problems with its implementation have delayed its use, and it is
now only available in limited form from developers themselves. (SNMP, Part 2 of
2, III.40.)
CMIP was designed to be better than SNMP in every way by repairing all
flaws, and expanding on what was good about it, making it a bigger and more
detailed network manager. It's design is similar to SNMP, where PDU's are used
as variables to monitor the network. CMIP however contains 11 types of PDU's
(compared to SNMP's 5). In CMIP, the variables are seen as very complex and
sophisticated data structures with three attributes. These include: 1)
Variable attributes: which represent the variables characteristics (its data
type, whether it is writable) 2) variable behaviors: what actions of that
variable can be triggered. 3) Notifications: the variable generates an event
report whenever a specified event occurs (eg. A terminal shutdown would cause a
variable notification event) (Comer, 82) As a comparison, SNMP only employs
variable properties from one and three above. The biggest feature of the CMIP
protocol is that its variables not only relay information to and from the
terminal (as in SNMP) , but they can also be used to perform tasks that would be
impossible under SNMP. For instance, if a terminal on a network cannot reach
the fileserver a pre-determined amount of times, then CMIP can notify
appropriate personnel of the event. With SNMP however, a user would have to
specifically tell it to keep track of unsuccessful attempts to reach the server,
and then what to do when that variable reaches a limit. CMIP therefore results
in a more efficient management system, and less work is required from the user
to keep updated on the status of the network. CMIP also contains the security
measures left out by SNMP. Because of the large development budget, when it
becomes available, CMIP will be widely used by the government, and the
corporations that funded it.
After reading the above paragraph, you might wonder why, if CMIP is this
wonderful, is it not being used already? (after all, it had been in development
for nearly 10 years) The answer is that possibly CMIP's only major disadvantage,
is enough in my opinion to render it useless. CMIP requires about ten times the
system resources that are needed for SNMP. In other words, very few systems in
the world would able to handle a full implementation on CMIP without undergoing
massive network modifications. This disadvantage has no inexpensive fix to it.
For that reason, many believe CMIP is doomed to fail. The other flaw in CMIP is
that it is very difficult to program. Its complex nature requires so many
different variables that only a few skilled programmers are able to use it to
it's full potential.
Considering the above information, one can see that both management systems
have their advantages and disadvantages. However the deciding factor between
the two, lies with their implementation, for now, it is almost impossible to
find a system with the necessary resources to support the CMIP model, even
though it is superior to SNMP (v1 and v2) in both design and operation. Many
people believe that the growing power of modern systems will soon fit well with
CMIP model, and might result in it's widespread use, but I believe by the time
that day comes, SNMP could very well have adapted itself to become what CMIP
currently offers, and more. As we've seen with other products, once a
technology achieves critical mass, and a substantial installed base, it's quite
difficult to convince users to rip it out and start fresh with an new and
unproven technology (Borsook, 48). It is then recommend that SNMP be used in a
situation where minimial security is needed, and SNMPv2 be used where security
is a high priority.

Works Cited

Borsook, Paulina. "SNMP tools evolving to meet critical LAN needs." Infoworld
June 1, 1992: 48-49. Comer, Douglas E. Internetworking with TCP/IP New
York: Prentice-Hall,
Inc., 1991. Dryden, Partick. "Another view for SNMP." Computerworld
December 11, 1995: 12. Feit, Dr. Sidnie. SNMP. New York: McGraw-Hill Inc.,
1995. Fisher, Sharon. "Dueling Protocols." Byte March 1991: 183-190. Horwitt,
Elisabeth. "SNMP holds steady as network standard." Computerworld
June 1, 1992: 53-54. Leon, Mark. "Advent creates Java tools for SNMP
apps." Infoworld
March 25, 1996: 8. Marshall, Rose. The Simple Book. New Jersey: Prentice
Hall, 1994. Miller, Mark A., P.E. Managing Internetworks with SNMP New York:
Books, 1993. Moore, Steve. "Committee takes another look at SNMP."
January 16, 1995: 58. Moore, Steve. "Users weigh benefits of DMI, SNMP."
July, 31 1995: 60. The SNMP Workshop & Panther Digital Corporation. SNMP
FAQ Part 1 of 2.
Danbury, CT: http://www.www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet/snmp-
faq/part1/faq.html, pantherdig@delphi.com. The SNMP Workshop & Panther
Digital Corporation. SNMP FAQ Part 2 of 2.
Danbury, CT: http://www.www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet/snmp-
faq/part2/faq.html, pantherdig@delphi.com. Stallings, William. SNMP,
SNMPv2, and CMIP. Don Mills, Addison-Wesley, 1993. Vallillee, Tyler, web page
author. Http://www.undergrad.math.
uwaterloo.ca/~tkvallil/snmp.html VanderSluis, Kurt. "SNMP: Not so simple."
MacUser October 1992: 237-240


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