Healthcare Depends on Quality Network Management
Biomedical Instrumentation & Technology
S ound network management practices are critical to most businesses, and even more so in healthcare. Keeping networked resources available at all times is the most fundamental aspect of network management, but, as we'll see, there's a lot going on behind the scenes to make it happen. Network downtime can cost a business financially in lost productivity and performance. For healthcare providers with medical information technology (IT) networks-defined as any IT network that incorporates at least
... one medical device-downtime can also impact patient care and safety. Network management is further stressed by constant growth and change. New applications will always be added, and old ones will be updated and upgraded. The networks themselves will change as new technology comes along to keep up with the ever increasing bandwidth demand. Networks are not bulletproof: Things will go wrong, resources will fail, and users will make mistakes. These are among the reasons for the new network risk management standard, IEC 80001-1. The standard, approved this fall, defines the roles, responsibilities, and activities that are necessary for risk management of medical IT networks to address safety, effectiveness, and data/system security. It focuses on risk management's means and processes for the entire life cycle of the medical IT network. We'll save the details of IEC 80001-1 for another IT World. In this issue, we'll focus on the other main tenets of what comprises network management. In addition, we'll look into the operation of the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) as a model and a way to learn how this is accomplished. Key Aspects to Network Management While recognizing that risk management is the overriding factor, there are five other key factors for a well-managed network: fault management, performance management, configuration management, accounting management, and security management. Before we get any further, it's important to mention the amount and effect of human intervention needed by the network manager. As we'll see, network management utilities are not fully automatic or autonomous. Fault management deals with quickly identifying, isolating, and repairing network problems. Many times, it's simply knowing who to reach out to when there's a problem. There are network technologies available that can notify the support staff when network components fail or network managers when server issues arise. Known as performance management, there are also applications that meter network operational parameters to help keep an eye on network health and predict imminent failure. Performance management involves tracking important network metrics such as processor and RAM usage, use of specific applications, disk access, and network traffic. Network status and performance information should be monitored continuously. Ideally, fault and performance monitoring should be proactive in detecting problems. This information can be used to forecast future upgrade requirements as well as troubleshoot network performance problems. However, it's only as proactive as the network manager's response. Tracking this kind of information can affect configuration management as well. Configuration management deals with adjusting network and user configurations to optimize network performance and productivity. Tied to fault management, changing configurations can additionally help to isolate network faults.