25 June 1996
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 well.
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
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
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.
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June 1, 1992: 48-49.
Comer, Douglas E. Internetworking with TCP/IP New York: Prentice-Hall,
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: M&T
Moore, Steve. ?Committee takes another look at SNMP.? Computerworld
January 16, 1995: 58.
Moore, Steve. ?Users weigh benefits of DMI, SNMP.? Computerworld
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-
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-
Stallings, William. SNMP, SNMPv2, and CMIP. Don Mills, Addison-Wesley, 1993.
Vallillee, Tyler, web page author. Http://www.undergrad.math.
VanderSluis, Kurt. ?SNMP: Not so simple.? MacUser October 1992: 237-240
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