Get app performance with smarter pipes: analyst

Although the Internet has developed into a vital business tool vital for the enterprise, a new problem has arisen for network managers: enterprise applications have to compete with the Web for critical bandwidth. According to a recent whitepaper, predictability of application performance over the wide area network (WAN) is degrading as a result of this battle for bandwidth.

The whitepaper entitled Application BandwidthandtheBottleneck Blues by Boston-based research firm Aberdeen Group revealed that with the increase of different traffic on the WAN, enterprises are faced with “three hard facts: critical application performance is often poor and…inconsistent; business needs continue to increase demand on existing network infrastructure; and the old answer of simply increasing bandwidth to address poor application performance is no longer automatically available.”

Aberdeen said that while less than a decade ago, when few applications ran over the enterprise WAN, IP-enabled software and Internet connectivity have today increased the number and variety of bandwidth-consuming applications, the majority of which are non-mission-critical.

“Certainly a misconception in the past has been more bandwidth was the elixir to solve all issues,” said George Peabody, vice-president of next-generation communications for Aberdeen Group. “In some respects that belief was predicated on the availability of bandwidth and we have ongoing problems with no immediate solutions in the access part of the network. If businesses could just get a handle on their Web traffic and prioritize it properly, it is remarkable how much that frees things up for more important traffic. In the backbone network, there is plenty of capacity, though maybe not the willingness to pay for it from the operators point of view. “

Responding to this problem, some service providers have turned to offering application performance management (APM) as an alternative to building more circuits for their customers and Telus Corp. is no exception. The Canadian telco recently announced its Managed Data Traffic service, offering a baselining service, monitoring and application performance management that brings “intelligent” bandwidth instead of more bandwidth to its customers.

However, Telus has not had to go at it alone. The service provider recently turned to Cupertino, Calif.-based Packeteer to provision enterprise traffic on the WAN. Packeteer’s flagship product, PacketShaper, provides a granular level of traffic management with true Layer 7 visibility and determines how much bandwidth certain applications are allowed.

“There is a stark trend in enterprise networking toward corporations not understanding what traffic is on their networks, how much of it is business-related and what impact the growing volume of traffic has on their most critical applications,” said Todd Krautkremer, vice-president of worldwide marketing for Packeteer. “I think nothing of sending a 12 Mb file to 20 people over e-mail. If you think about that from an enterprise bandwidth standpoint, if I am at a remote office somewhere with a 56 Kb low-speed connection, 12 Mb going across that connection is huge and could consume all that bandwidth literally for a multitudes of minutes.”

Krautkremer added that another catalyst burdening the enterprise WAN is the adoption of IP by many corporations as the strategic network fabric.

“IP as a technology is born to burst,” he explained.” Inherently it is application-neutral, but whatever traffic can demand the most bandwidth gets the most bandwidth. Consequently in many situations, less urgent of non-business oriented traffic tends to be the most bursty and the most bandwidth-demanding traffic versus Oracle for example, which tends to be more transaction-oriented. An application-neutral network that actually caters to traffic that bursts, you can see how the traffic gets squeezed out from the applications you actually care about.”

For Telus, it was important that customers had the ability to continue using their existing infrastructure without having to purchase additional bandwidth to accommodate bursty apps.

“There was a demand from the customer base to understand the traffic that is going over the WAN,” said Brent Douziech, senior product manager for Telus in Calgary. “As a service provider we are moving toward that managed service provider space and we needed a capability to offer network content management to our customer base that allowed us to have ease of deployment (and) reliability of the appliance. We needed reliability from a customer perspective in that we needed to ensure that the solution could be repeatable throughout our customer base and that the customers could access all the rich reports that are available from PacketShaper. At the customers’ fingertips is all the information they ever needed to know about the application demand, Web traffic and WAN traffic.”

While Telus and Packeteer have developed a solution to the APM dilemma, Peabody protests that it is an enterprise issue and one that needs to be understood by the enterprise.

“In the past the communication service providers (CSPs) could get away with QoS guarantees because they just over-provisioned, but it really is an access network issue so it really is an issue for the enterprise,” Peabody said. He added, though, that he “would certainly look at the outsourcing option if it is available. You don’t have to go out and buy another T-1, or equipment that is your own and take on the management of that equipment. It depends on how much you are willing to spend for capital and for learning yet another box. To me, it falls in an area where outsourcing is something that needs to be examined.”

And, both companies agree with Peabody. Packeteer’s Krautkremer explained that in its relationship with Telus, Packeteer is extending the technology solution to customers who need it, without the pain of having to purchase the boxes themselves.

“It is always the end user customer who has this problem and can choose to satisfy it by either buying a service or by buying (PacketShaper) form Packeteer or Telus,” he added. “Telus in this whole effort of smarter pipes at the edge of the network versus larger pipes at the edge represents a key change in how people think about networking and how people think about making applications perform going forward. I think Telus is on the cusp of what will be a new category of services going forward.”