Blue Coat adds app awareness to PacketShaper

With staff demanding access to social networking sites, network managers can have their hands full keeping a lid on security.

To meet that conflict,Blue Coat Systems Inc. has tied the software in its PacketShaper traffic management appliance to the company’s WebPulse content rating service to improve the categorization of Web applications.

Before the release of version 8.6 of the software, PacketShaper grouped Web sites and applications into 23 broad groups. Now it can slice them into 80 categories, each of which can be prioritized by network or security managers.

For example, Facebook sites are automatically grouped under titles like Business, Entertainment, Personals, Video and others. Managers can not only decide to block or permit access, but also to prioritize access by “squeezing” bandwidth – if traffic is slowed, staff will have a disincentive to visit a site.

 “It’s a way to cover the whole spectrum of Web-based and non Web-based applications,” said Steve House, Blue Coat’s senior director of product marketing.

“Now you have the ability to differentiate the good from the bad (sites), but more importantly the ever-growing gray line in the middle.”

Andre Kindness, a senior analyst for enterprise networking at Forrester Research says the approach is one that organizations will likely welcome, and one that competing network traffic or WAN optimization manufactures will follow.

“Customers are asking for control over what their users are doing because bandwidth is being over-utilized,” he said in an interview.

When social media such as Facebook and YouTube initially became popular, the response from a number of IT departments was to refuse employees access to them. However, marketing departments are eager to take advantage of so-called Web 2.0 technology, an interest that has expanded from other departments.

Being able to deeply categorize these sites can only be of help, he said.

The new capability runs on all current PacketShaper models, plus the discontinued model 1400.

In use, when a staff member goes to a Web site that isn’t in PackShaper’s cache, it queries WebPulse, a service in which users around the world rate Web sites. It in turn returns four suggested categories for each URL. The WebPulse service is also offered with Blue Coat’s Web Gateway.

Blue Coat also made two product announcements at the same time. It has added a new top of the line PacketShaper, the 12,000 (pictured above), which offers total throughput (in and out) of up to 3 gigabits per second. That’s twich the performance of the model 10,000.

It also saves space. The 12,000 is a 1U-sized appliance, compared to the 2U-high model 10,000. To be released next month, pricing for the 12,000 starts at US$55,000.

 IntelligenceCenter 3, a management application for overseeing more than one PacketShaper, has also been released. Among the improvements are a 10 times increase in data collection, improved alerts and role-based access control.

IntelligenceCenter pricing is based on the number of appliances it monitors, and starts at US$2,000.