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N+I: The long road back

May 24, 20044 mins
Data Center

* Reflections on management at NetWorld+Interop

Probably the most notable thing about NetWorld+Interop 2004 was the level of consistent, quiet optimism I encountered across about 30 meetings over three days.

The show was contained in a single hall, as it was the year before, but the number of exhibitors was up. Moreover, while there were plenty of T-shirts being given out, the atmosphere was less circus-like than in the past. People were there for a reason – either to talk with industry partners or to shop.

Network management and security were very visible – probably more so than in any show in the past. I didn’t actually count, but I think if I had added up every vendor that featured some type of network or security management, it would have included close to half of the exhibitors. This wasn’t altogether a surprise – even the chip vendor with whom I shared a cab back to the airport asserted that “management is the wave of the future” – but it was still gratifying to see.

Three other themes were a dominant part of my experience at N+I:

* Managing application delivery over a WAN.

* The intersection of network and security management.

* Componentized analytics.

Regular readers will notice that these are three of my personal hot buttons – but they also stood out in various ways as dominant concerns on the show floor and in what people said to me.

There’s no doubt that managing application delivery over the wide area is still a source of great confusion among buyers. The number of vendors approaching this market is, if anything, still growing in the face of acquisition and consolidation, and there are already more than a hundred. Buyers sometimes found helpful direction among vendors in the Performance Pavilion, as they looked for uniqueness across offerings that at first blush seemed to do the same thing. Some points of differentiation useful for finding the vendor “right for you” within this quite heterogeneous group are:

* Degree of application granularity vs. network granularity.

* Breadth and specificity of application support.

* Level of granularity for transaction analysis within an application.

* Robustness of metrics to analyze end-user experience.

* Level of WAN support.

* Support for measurements across public and private WANs.

* Support for MPLS.

* Support for VoIP.

* Support for VPNs.

* Support for QoS.

* Insight into the data center as well as the WAN – as two ends of the same balancing beam .

* Historical vs. real-time.

* Related capabilities such as capacity planning and WAN rightsizing, as well as support for security features such as use of unauthorized applications or intrusion detection.

This segues into the next area of focus at Interop, which was integrated network and security management. I won’t go into the same level of detail here, except to say that there was definitely an upswing in security booths, many aimed at niches. At the same time, a growing number of mainstream network performance and event management products were identifying security modules as natural extensions to their core, enabling technologies.

A handful of my discussions at Interop reflected the following trend: a growing number of larger vendors are seeking out advanced analytic engines, while a small but growing number of smaller vendors are targeting componentized analytic engines as products.

These vendors have decided that “data gathering ain’t us” and are leveraging integration – often through database access – to support larger providers. At the same time the larger providers, often with rich capabilities for monitoring and gathering information, need that ultimate competitive advantage – advanced analytics – to support anything from root-cause analysis to more advanced security-related correlation, to more effective business impact analysis, to… fill in the blank.

Of course, I’m a bigot. I wrote about this market two years ago, and at Interop I began to see it start to take shape. Ultimately the value to you, the IT consumer, is better products. In my opinion, little could do the industry more good than to see the next noteworthy “Intel Inside” seal of approval become a signature for someone’s extensible analytic engine.