Add bandwidth or simply optimize? You make the call

As I walked the aisles at the recent NetWorld+Interop 2002 Las Vegas, I observed that the show floor definitely was not as busy as years gone by and that vendors took a much more tame approach to peddling their wares. Of course there was still plenty of freebie tchotchkes, performances and magic shows (which always puzzle me – why would anyone purchase a product whose catch is that the hand is quicker than the eye?)

Separate from the sideshows, there was quite a diverse thought process on where the technology is headed. On one hand we witnessed the first 10G Ethernet interoperability demonstration at the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance booth. From the components that make up the 10G Ethernet devices to the cable manufacturers and the test-tool vendors, all demonstrated their interoperability with the finished products from vendors such as Cisco Systems Inc., Extreme Networks Inc., Foundry Networks Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp. These demonstrations show that 10G Ethernet is no longer a fantasy but a reality, and those who need bandwidth can place their orders today.

On the other hand, I also saw a strong showing of vendors whose mantra is, “Why add expensive bandwidth? Optimize.” This class of products ranges from route optimization to content-delivery optimizers. Each vendor focuses on an area in which they have a product that can perform functions more effectively. Route optimization products, for instance, help provide a better end-user experience without growing your bandwidth pipes.

We all realize that throwing bandwidth at a problem may work, but can be an expensive proposition. Instead, vendors such as RouteScience Technologies Inc. and Proficient Networks Inc. calculate (via their own proprietary methods) the most effective routes for packets to take. Taking into consideration packet loss and latency, route tables are updated accordingly, aiding in maintaining service-level agreements and providing a type of pseudo-quality of service to ensure data gets the bandwidth it needs in the public network cloud.

Content-delivery optimization products are nothing new, although we did see some new faces in Start-up City. These products assist in taking the inefficiencies out of routine tasks such as HTTP transactions. Here the vendors show why not to spend hefty dollars on expensive Web servers, when there is plenty of life left in existing servers. Through a variety of different methods (usually persistent HTTP connections) these devices sit in front of the server farm and optimize transactions accordingly.

So which method is right? Neither approach on its own represents the perfect solution. Rather, a hybrid of the two – bandwidth and optimization – is the right approach for the times. Applications such as voice over IP, a relatively low-bandwidth consumer (yet extremely sensitive to latency), are gaining momentum. And with the economic downturn, costly capital expenditures of items such as Web servers that also come with costly operating expenses (maintenance, personnel, etc.), are not big winners with the decision-makers. What this means is that optimization products may win in the short term because the emphasis is on cost reduction and maximizing installed investments.

However, down the road, we are seeing the growing demand for new bandwidth-intensive services such as video-on-demand and high-quality video streaming. These applications will require the bandwidth that 10G Ethernet delivers. Of course, before long, undoubtedly someone will come out with the optimizer targeted for 10G Ethernet links. The cycle will just continue to repeat.

Tolly is an engineer with The Tolly Group in Manasquan, N.J. He may be reached at [email protected].

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