Tackling the management morass

* Exinda Networks unveils a hosted service for configuring and managing its WAN optimization appliances

When you’re talking about managing WAN optimization appliances, you’re talking about remote management. There’s just no getting around it, unless you plan to hire IT staff in every location on the WAN where an appliance is deployed.

The latest vendor to come up with a new product for taming the management challenge is Exinda Networks, which last week unveiled a hosted application for centrally managing its WAN optimization gear.

Called Service Delivery Point (SDP), the tool is designed to simplify the task of installing, configuring and monitoring WAN optimization appliances distributed throughout corporate networks. IT managers use a Web browser to access the application -- which runs in an Exinda data center -- to control device policy and better optimize their networks. Reports provide visibility into application performance over the WAN and include information such as network utilization, top applications and top URLs accessed.

“We’ve moved a lot of the smarts of the system, and the management of the system, out of the customer environment and off of a single appliance and put it into a central location,” says Con Nikolouzakis, CEO at Exinda. “That enables our clients to scale up to hundreds or thousands of appliances and still maintain control over their entire network.”

Because the software is delivered as a service over the Web, companies can avoid some of the traditional expenses of a centralized management system deployed in-house. They don’t have to buy hardware, for example, or install, maintain and upgrade the software.

The software-as-a-service delivery model is a natural fit for companies that want to move away from static appliance configurations and be able to more easily adjust WAN policies as business and network conditions change, Nikolouzakis adds. “We’ve seen that the dynamic nature of networks today is requiring that these policies are constantly updated,” he says.

SDP, which is due to be available in late June, is licensed by the number of appliances to be managed. The Web-hosted version has no set up fee and costs $20 per appliance per month; the price drops to $5 per appliance per month for 500 or more managed devices.

For companies that aren’t comfortable with a hosted offering, Exinda also offers an appliance version of SDP for deployment on-site. Pricing for the SDP appliance starts at $5,000.

In future versions, as Exinda adds customers to its hosted service and beings to amass data about customer networks, its plan is to migrate SDP into a source for real-time notifications on application performance and recommendations for setting optimal network policies.

“For example, if you’re a new user of WAN optimization, you can come into the SDP and say, ‘I’ve got 50 offices and I’m running SAP and Lotus Notes and I’ve got VoIP. These are the size of my links,’” Nikolouzakis says. “The system will look inside the existing community and come back and say ‘this is the recommended policy for your network and this policy has been voted for 100 times and it’s got a 4.5 star rating.’ So you can have a level of confidence in how successful your rollout is going to be.”

In terms of automated configuration, IT managers will be able to choose from among three operational modes: a fully automated mode in which SDP will determine optimal device configuration; a semi-assist mode in which SDP will recommend optimal policies but won’t implement them without IT sign-off; and a manual mode in which IT managers configure appliances manually.

“I think people will start in the semi-assist mode, which is very similar to how customers work with us today,” Nikolouzakis says. “They say, ‘Ok, you guys propose a configuration to us, and then we’ll sign off on it.’ Once they get comfortable with the system, I think they will move up to the automated mode.”

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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