In theory, network traffic management software should withstand just about any downturn in the economy. In times of booming sales, IT budgets expand and more dollars are spent on expanding an organization's IT infrastructure. However, in times of lower economic activity (like the current one we're hoping we're seeing the tail end of), IT budgets shrink and network administrators are told to do more with less.
Doing more with less is what network traffic management tools are all about. While the software can be pricey (depending on the size and complexity of a network), its aim is to ensure that you are getting the best out of what infrastructure you have got. And while there is much rhetoric as to what makes up a good network management tool, the end goal is always the same - to give an administrator a single and accurate view of the health of the network and everything it carries.
Ask Yossi Vardi, director of strategic alliances for Radware Australia Pty Ltd., about the need for network management tools and he will tell you the tools are not intended to solve technological problems. The inherent technological problem in any network is a lack of bandwidth or capacity.
Instead, Vardi suggests the need for management tools stems from the demand to solve a business problem. During the rush to get Web-enabled, organizations invested a great deal of resources into infrastructure. Vardi believes that the result was a great amount of wasted resources, as most networks see one box bearing all the strain of traffic while others sit unemployed.
"For example, there are some companies that have two firewalls," he explains. "One is active, and one is used for back-up. Why not have both active? The company has spent capital and is not seeing the return."
In what marketing managers are referring to as the "enlightened post dot-com economy", it is easy to see why the financial director is unlikely to see the value in spending any more capital on infrastructure. According to Vardi, unless the plan is foolproof, the bean counters know it isn't easy to gain any additional revenues through implementing technology - which only works for them when it is driving down costs. "The mistake that keeps being made is that IT departments are adding extra boxes to a network, yet they are not managing the network."
"Without the right management tool you cannot predict what is going to happen in terms of capacity," agrees Niclas Forsvall, regional director for InfoVista Australia and New Zealand. "You will either be over-utilizing or under-utilizing your infrastructure."
Network traffic management tools have been around for many years and have evolved into sophisticated tools. Take the 14-year history of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OpenView product as an example. While it was originally designed to be purely a network traffic tool, it moved to managing servers in distributed computing environments, and has reached a point where now it manages the availability of databases and applications. In recent years network management tools have evolved to such an extent that individual packets are directed according to pre-determined business rules, such as what times a certain application is too busy to take more connections, or which customer should have preference in completing a transaction.