Managing the networked world with Java

JMAPI provides universal framework for network management tools

Network management has always seemed an arcane and mystical job of the few and the brave. Even with important standards such as SNMP (simple network management protocol) and the RMON (remote monitoring) specification, it still takes a lot of training and even more practical experience to become even the least bit proficient. And expertise with one network management and monitoring package may not easily transfer to other packages.

The future is bright, however. If I said "Java to the Rescue" one more time, would you save slapping your forehead in exasperation until after you have read this issue? Although it does seem that the marketing spin doctors of the Java industry are heralding it as the pill for all ailments, this time they may be correct.

In continuation of our coverage of the Java APIs, we now bring on the noise about the Java Management API, or as some call it, JMAPI. Unlike the actual protocol standards SNMP and RMON, which deal directly with communicating with network hardware and software in a uniform way, JMAPI is concerned only with creating a common interface for accessing network information through these and other network protocols.

Components

JMAPI provides programming support for the following features and services:

  • User Interface Style
  • Administrative View Module (AVM)
  • Base Object Interfaces
  • Managed Container Interfaces
  • Managed Notification Interfaces
  • Managed Data Interfaces
  • Managed Protocol Interfaces
  • SNMP Interfaces
  • Applet Integration Interfaces

These components provide the overall structure for creating managed network environment of heterogeneous computer systems. They do not include specific objects, or protocol and system services specific to each type of device to be managed. This is, of course, going to be the responsibility of network equipment vendors.

Although the APIs do not impose a specific graphical view on the Java applet or application developed with JMAPI, there are style guidelines that can help. The User Interface Style guide addresses the issue of how to develop Web-based software using Java, something not all programmers are familiar with.

The AVM is a set of classes that help rapid development of a user interface for the JMAPI software. It is an extension of the current Abstract Window Toolkit (AWT) used by all Java applets. It provides support for making toolbars, multicolumn lists, tables, a help system, buttons, graphs, charts, property charts, etc. Some of these features may appear in future versions of AWT as well.

The Base Object Interface is a description of a distributed network object or service that spans the entire enterprise environment. It can be used to create a very basic object description of a router or Ethernet switch, for example. These can be further sub-classed to create more specific objects like a Cisco 1005 router object.

The Managed Container Interface allows objects to act as a group across the network. This allows you to classify groups of similar or disparate objects as distinct parts of your network. For example, you can use this to classify all types of routers irrespective of whether it's a small 3Com OfficeConnect Remote or a massive Cisco 7500.

The Managed Notification Interfaces create an event management system for all network alarms or events. This creates a model for distributing or collecting asynchronous network event messages in databases or to direct messages to a given console.

The Managed Data Interface provides the proper tools for integrating the instances of the Base Objects with a database system based upon the Java Database Connectivity specification. This allows the system to store all state information about each of the objects across the network in a fast database format for interaction with other applications.

The Managed Protocol Interface provides methods for the secure transmission of network management information. The security system is based upon the Java Security API currently in the works.

The SNMP Interfaces allow the interaction of JMAPI objects with existing SNMP agents on your network. This allows the network management applet to communicate with existing SNMP-based devices on your network. As yet, there has been no further word on support for the RMON network management standard although companies like 3Com and Cisco are looking into it.

Applet Integration Interfaces provide the basic API services for transmitting signed applets and provide access to registered pages and links.

Why JMAPI?

JMAPI provides not only a standard interface to managing a network through the Web, but it also provides a good solution as a platform-independent system in a distributed environment. The individual components of the API promote reuse of code for different objects and may be the first good architecture that allows components of different network management software system to communicate. Most network management systems now only have components that work with the same package. For example, the 3Com Transcend system has modules that work very well with itself but cannot be reused with Solstice Manager because the internal code itself is so inherently different.

The API also is one of the few that provides uniform support for secure management of systems over the Internet. SNMP version 1 has no security by itself. A product based solely upon this standard could have given free reign to anyone with the software to modify your network behavior. Now not only your internal network can be safely monitored and controlled with this software, but you can even do the same for your remote office in another part of the world.

One common problem with current network management systems is that new versions of network agents are being released very rapidly. Having to install new versions of agents in a network of several thousand components on a regular basis could take several full-time people in itself. With the basis of network distribution of securely signed software components and Java objects available, this could become a thing of the past. Presumably, you could simply instruct your software to get the current version of the object when you decide to upgrade and the software will download this from the vendor's store.

Being Web-based provides certain benefits. You can now access your network management software system from any Web browser. If your network is connected to the Internet, you could even effectively monitor and manage your network from your favorite local Internet Cafe and still show the boss you are actually doing work.

Finally, JMAPI is not based upon SNMP. Although it supports it, JMAPI itself is only a framework for management systems. The protocol or standard actually supported can be really anything as long as you create the proper support system within JMAPI. With this in mind, official support for the much more able RMON system could be around the bend.

Demonstrationville

If you get a chance, you should take a look at the various demonstrations and example software systems created by the vendors supporting JMAPI. The demo of 3Com's AccessWatch, for example, is quite impressive for a basic example. We can expect that major network management software vendors such as Sun, 3Com, and Cisco will come up with improved versions of their current software packages using the new Web-based format. It is also a good bet that other major vendors like IBM will soon fall in line and release their own popular network management tools in Java versions. Take a look at some of the URLs at the end of the article for a list of what these vendors are doing.

I've seen it; I want it

Like most of the official Java APIs and standards, the management APIs will not be complete until 1997. Vendors are creating test environments and beta versions of the software. It is likely you will be able to watch more demos in action as they come closer to coherency. There are several basic components that you will need:

  • A Java-enabled browser like Netscape Navigator, HotJava, or Internet Explorer
  • The JMAPI objects
  • A commercial relational database such as Oracle, Sybase, or Informix integrated with JDBC
  • A Web server to distribute the objects

JMAPI is based on Java 1.1, which also will not arrive in full form until 1997. Specifically, JMAPI needs support for the Java remote execution support of RMI.

As you well know, installing or replacing a network management system is an expensive process both cost-wise and time-wise. You should carefully observe the news about JMAPI and products based upon this before taking any big steps.

The one, the only?

Note that JMAPI isn't the only specification for network management through the Web. In fact, another major standard known generically as Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) is also in the works; started in July this year, it is a larger effort by numerous companies including Microsoft, Netscape, Cisco, 3Com, and over 50 others to create a new network protocol based upon HTTP for managing network devices. We will be looking at WBEM in the November 1st issue of our sister publication, SunWorld Online.

WBEM is not entirely the same thing as JMAPI since it focuses on new protocols for managing the network and a new hierarchy. JMAPI only focuses on a software architecture for management tools and uses existing protocols such as SNMP.

JMAPI boasts several major network vendors as supporters, including the top three -- 3Com, Bay Networks, and Cisco. (Others include BMC, Legato, Lotus, Platinum Technologies, Wyatt River Technologies, Landmark Technologies and -- of course -- Sun Microsystems.) JavaSoft informs me that there are almost a total of 50 vendors who have chimed in on the effort. At the recent UNIX Expo in New York, we watched several demos which are in the works and have not been released to the general public as yet.

Meanwhile, WBEM also has a lot of supporters right now. These two new developments indicate that the network management playing field now has a few more rules to it. It has gone beyond the simpler SNMP vs. RMON battles and brought in players with different interests.

Rawn Shah is vice president of RTD Systems & Networking, Inc. He has watched the Java industry from its early emergence in 1995 and writes and gives presentations regularly on the subject. He is currently working on his fifth book, which focuses on Java-based authoring tools.

Learn more about this topic

  • Demos
  • The following companies are working on products but at press time did not have online sites or links to visit. Here are their corporate URLs: