A look at Demo 2006, the event in Phoenix showcasing technologies that aim to ease the burden for IT managers.
Imagine being able to set up and manage a wireless LAN without extensive RF engineering. Or enabling help desk staff to diagnose and solve remote-workstation problems without leaving their own desks. Or preventing hacking and the spread of viruses by automatically sending infected users the tools they need to clean up their machines when they try to log on to the network.
These and other technologies that aim to ease the burden for IT managers will debut this week at Demo 2006 in Phoenix. "IT managers need tools that make it much easier to read the vital signs of the network, diagnose problems and then take corrective measures. These tools are geared toward helping them do that in a more automated fashion and more efficiently," says Chris Shipley, executive producer of Demo, which is part of Network World.
Among the 70 technologies on display at the show this week, here are the ones IT executives will want to examine closely:
Cesura Business Certainty Solution
Details: Starts at $6,000 per month for three-month subscription.
Challenge: As more employees and customers access Web-based applications, IT groups have trouble detecting performance and availability problems until users start to complain. This can lead to productivity disruptions and poor customer service.
Solution: The Cesura system, which can be implemented via blade-server appliance or a managed service, maps all the hardware, software and other components that make up the user experience with the application. The appliance constantly polls the system to gather data regarding QoS. When poor service is found, the system sends a note to the appropriate IT personnel - Web development or network teams - outlining the users, applications and locations affected.
Cesura also offers suggestions for the problem's cause. IT can later search a database of problems to see where frequent disruptions have occurred and perform infrastructure upgrades more efficiently. For example, if a remote office has a history of problems with e-mail every Friday (because of high volume), then the IT group can provision more bandwidth on that day, says Bruce Flory, marketing and business development executive with Cesura.
Company: Level 5 Networks
Details: Pricing has not been released; package includes an Ethernet network interface card (NIC) with two Gigabit ports and a driver card.
Challenge: The demands of service-oriented architectures are taxing data-center servers. As requests to and from servers for Web services, databases, storage and applications increase, enterprise managers are being forced to expand their data centers, which can be costly.
Solution: Level 5 is launching the idea of accelerated Ethernet, says Craig Easley, director of product marketing for the company. EtherXL, via a combination of NICs (up to 10 Gigabit Ethernet) and driver cards, lets enterprise managers reprovision servers to accommodate heavy data-center loads without adding hardware. For example, if a Web site expects increased traffic because of an e-mail promotion, EtherXL configures the servers to collaborate and balance the load. Easley says optimizing existing infrastructure saves companies from adding more servers, renting more rack space and providing additional power and cooling for a data center.
Mi5 Enterprise Spygate, Models 001, 003, 005, 007 and 009
Company: Mi5 Networks
Details: Pricing starts at $2,000 for appliance hardware and $1,300 per year for software and spyware database updates.
Challenge: Spyware continues to become more sophisticated. Even if spyware is detected on desktops, many security programs can't stop the programs from sending sensitive information back to their home base. In addition, lots of help-desk time is involved in cleaning up and reimaging infected machines.
Solution: The Mi5 Enterprise Spygate is an appliance that sits at the enterprise gateway. "We're a first line of defense," says Doug Camplejohn, CEO and co-founder of Mi5. A monitoring and auditing feature shows what machines are infected with what spyware. Camplejohn says alerts are prioritized into critical, major and minor categories. "You may have 10 pieces of adware on your system, but that's less worrisome than one key logger," he says. Spygate detects and blocks key loggers from capturing and sending out critical data. The appliance also integrates with trouble-ticket systems, including Remedy, so IT groups can track outbreaks.
Details: Beta is available, general availability by end of first quarter; pricing has not been determined.
Challenge: IT managers are overloaded with the data generated by intrusion-detection systems (IDS). "If they do get free time to look at the system output, they try to figure out who is causing the problems and then put them on the access-control list so they can't come onto the network," says Raul Vaughn, director of strategic services at FrontPorch. He says this leads to help desk headaches as users try to log on to their computers. "They call in, and they're told to clean up their computers, but they can't, because they can't get onto the network," he says.
Solution: The PorchLight Security Messaging tool hooks onto an organization's IDS as a stand-alone device or managed service. It uses copies of the IDS system logs to detect anomalies in rules that IT groups set. When a threshold of anomalies is reached, PorchLight sends a message to the user the next time he tries to log on. The message, which is branded so the user knows it isn't spam, appears in the browser and explains that the machine is infected and sends tools to clean up the problem along with detailed instructions.
Panoratio Generator, Explorer
Company: Panoratio Database Images
Details: Pricing for Generator and Explorer were unavailable.
Challenge: Data-intensive applications, such as CAD/CAM design and pharmaceutical research, require IT groups to manage massive server farms to store terabytes of data. Retrieving and sharing the data is often a drain on network resources.
Solution: Panoratio creates a database image file (called a pdi file) that is 100 to 1,000 times smaller than a traditional data set, according to Brett Kilpatrick, president and CEO of the company. The technology searches for patterns and duplications in the rows of data to enable compression of the file. This allows a data set that might normally be 5GB to be minimized to 50MB. This reduction lets researchers access and analyze the data on laptops. Kilpatrick says the pdi file runs in the memory of the computer, rather than being called from an Oracle database or storage, so analytics reach a subsecond response time. "The servers you have can now hold a thousand times more data on them," he says. In terms of security, the PDI is password protected for access, can be easily customized to reflect only data that an individual user is authorized to see and resides in a proprietary encrypted format on the disk and in memory.
Company: Persystent Technologies
Details: Starts at $99 per desktop license.
Challenge: IT may not have enough resources to guarantee that users update their machines to respond to security threats. When problems occur, companies are disrupted as IT tries to restore previous desktop images.
Solution: The Persystent Enterprise client/server software uses policies to ensure that devices on the network are in a healthy state. The software polls the network to find out new policies, patches and updates. Whatever is needed to repair the machine is downloaded to the local drive so machines can fix issues, such as corrupted files, that happen during boot cycles, at any time or offline.
SupportDesk Version 9.0
Details: Available at the end of this quarter; appliance and one license starts at $3,490.
Challenge: As companies become more distributed and stretch IT resources, providing adequate help-desk support to remote users becomes harder. Traditional remote diagnostic tools often don't work through firewalls and require preinstallation of client-side software. Guiding users through cleanup procedures over the phone often leads to more problems.
Solution: When users are having problems with their machines, they can call the help desk. Using the SupportDesk appliance, IT teams can gain remote control over the computer by sending an applet to the user desktop. Once the user accepts the applet, the IT staffer can go through the support routine as if they were sitting at a user's workstation - without needing the user's help. "This saves companies a lot of time and money in going desktop-to-desktop or traveling to remote offices," says Joel Bomgaars, CEO and founder of NetworkStreaming. He says the technology complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and Sarbanes-Oxley Act, because data and control over the machine do not leave the organization, and users can terminate IT control at any time. The newest version of SupportDesk allows multiple help desk personnel to view the remote desktop simultaneously.
Details: Bundled into Extricom Wireless LAN, pricing starts at $10,000 for eight-port switch and eight Dual Radio UltraThin Access Points.
Challenge: Wireless LANs often require significant radio frequency engineering and management at the access-point level. Channel limitations also create bottlenecks that result in poor coverage, decreased capacity, disrupted mobility and weak security.
Solution: The key is to move the intelligence into the switch, says David Confalonieri, vice president of corporate marketing at Extricom. "The switch is the heart and core of optimizing Wi-Fi performance at the channel and capacity level," he says. With the Extricom network featuring TrueReuse, clients associate with the switch rather than the distributed access points, which then become nothing more than radio points with antennae. This centralization lets IT groups take every channel available in 802.11 and instead of allocating them to individual access points, they can put all channels on all access points. "Instead of a honeycomb approach, you have a blanket approach," he says. He adds that this makes the RF complexity disappear because the switch handles any potential RF interference. IT managers can place access points wherever they are needed, and users can move between them easily without losing their connections.
Company: Tested Technology
Details: Pricing not yet released.
Challenge: When a network attack goes through an open firewall port, it's difficult to block the malicious IP address from gaining access. A common tool, blacklisting, is less than 60% efficient, because of its false positives, according to Mark Anderson, marketing director at Tested Technology.
Solution: Hyperblocking intrusion-prevention system (IPS) software sits in front of the firewall and gathers information about IP addresses entering through open ports. Anderson says comparing attributes of all the IP addresses flowing through the network allows the software to learn whether they are friends or foes. If the Hyperblocking IPS database determines that an IP address intends to do harm, it makes the network invisible. The offending machine thinks that the device was unplugged. Anderson says the code, which is about 300KB, is often referred to as a "precrime database" because it can determine the intent of the attacker.
Company: Shimon Systems
Details: Available via Web site and OEMs; pricing starts at $499.
Challenge: Password maintenance is a huge headache for IT. Users jam the help desk with requests for remembering or resetting passwords, which drains valuable resources. "Also, password security is rather weak - [they're] easy to break," says Baldev Krishan, president and CEO of Shimon Systems.
Solution: Bio-NetGuard is a client/server application that lets employees log on to the network with a fingerprint (shimon means fingerprint in Japanese). Fingerprint sensors attached to devices validate users and machines, and the server holds policies regarding users' access levels. Bio-NetGuard provides single sign-on to Windows as well as Web sites that require username and passwords. Krishan says the client/server combo, which also works with wireless networks, is safe, because fingerprints are not stored as whole images - only the minutiae points of the prints are recorded.
Eeminder PlusCompany: Eeminder
Details: Second generation of Eeminder Plus is available; subscription pricing starts at $9.95 per user/per month
Challenge: Tracking projects is difficult for IT managers. They may send e-mails asking the status of a development task, but then forget to follow up or lose track of the original e-mail.
Solution: Eeminder connects with Microsoft Exchange as an appliance or hosted service and lets users convert their e-mails into tasks. If an IT manager sends an e-mail to team members about projects, Eeminder analyzes that message and creates a project life cycle to go with it. It uses artificial intelligence to gather information about the due date, who is involved and other related information. Eeminder then sends follow-up reminders about the task so that all parties can track its progression.
"You don't have to hunt through your in-box looking for the last e-mail you sent," says Tom Utsch, chairman and CEO of Eeminder in Hermosa Beach, Calif. He adds that the tool can be used for sales forces, consultants and other professionals that work on project-oriented schedules.
Company: iotum Corp.
Details: Scheduled to be available this quarter; hosted service to be offered by monthly subscription rateChallenge: Users are connected to e-mail, office phones, cell phones and home phones. Yet, when business contacts are trying to reach them, many of the calls end in voice mail. Users need a way to filter calls so that important contacts get through.
Solution: myiotum is a hosted service that lets users create relevance for their communications. Alec Saunders, president and CEO of iotum in Ottawa, Canada, likens it to the job a receptionist performs.
"We look at what you're doing at that time and who you're doing it with to determine if you should be disturbed," he says. For instance, if a user is in a meeting but is getting a call from someone he'll be meeting with later, then that call is forwarded through. However, a call from a relative would be sent to voice mail.
|Reporting from Demo '06 are, from left, Network World's Jason Meserve, Cara Garretson and Keith Shaw. For ongoing show coverage, see www.demo.com. For a sneak peak at consumer products, see Shaw's Cool Tools.|
"We draw contextual information from the tools you already use, like Microsoft Outlook and AOL Instant Messenger," he says. Myiotum also handles entrance to conference calls for users. It dials into bridge numbers automatically but doesn't require the users to come online until all participants are on the call.
Gittlen is a technology editor in Northboro, Mass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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