NetWorld+Interop - Customers re-evaluate best-of-breed merits

As the NetWorld+Interop conference 2002 draws to a close on Thursday, customers are leaving behind a message to a broad range of network management vendors: New development efforts are fine, but functionality and performance are what sits atop priority lists.

Budget pinches are forcing many end-users to re-evaluate investments they made over the past few years in network equipment and software and remake that package into a coherent management architecture, according to Paul Bugala, research analyst for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. That drive is leading customers to turn their attention away from smaller niche network management vendors in favor of established, larger framework providers, he said.

"The appeal of best-of-breed products is fading to a certain degree, while the idea of having an integrated product having a little less functionality and the ability to deal with less vendors is more appealing [to customers]," Bugala said.

"They're going back to the larger vendors to expand on products they already have, [and asking] 'What is going to be the heart of my network operations center and solve issues like capacity planning, applications, and systems management all under one umbrella?'".

While Bugala points out that many customers may not be ready just yet to deploy complex applications such as IP services, they nonetheless would like to know tools exist from their vendors to manage those products in the future. That, in turn, is fueling research and development initiatives by large and forward-thinking vendors to discern customers' eventual needs in handling complex network issues such as SAN (storage area network) management, VOIP (Voice Over IP), and mobile IP, he adds.

Hoping to buck the possible customer exodus back toward large framework-minded network management giants, this week at N+I Compuware announced the availability of Vantage 8, its distributed application performance solution.

New features within the Vantage 8 integrated suite of seven components include CientVantage, a new monitoring component that provides response time data on an enterprise's critical applications, and a WAN provisioning module to size WAN links for application workload support from remote locations, said officials of the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based company.

Bugala said products such as Vantage 8 become increasingly important in gauging how end-users may be affected by the impact upon a WAN or LAN (land area network) environment with the escalating numbers of high-end applications such as ERP (enterprise resource management) and CRM (customer relationship management) being distributed over the Internet and fighting for bandwidth consumption.

Meanwhile, Shunra got into the distributed application performance act in Las Vegas as well with the launch of its Forecaster product at N+I. The tool virtually tests any Web-enabled application on a network before deployment and offers companies the ability to "forecast" and diagnose a variety of application deployment and network management problems before they affect network performance, said Benny Daon, founder and CEO of Paramus, N.J.-based Shunra.

Available in June, Forecaster is able to predict and generate reports about application impact and end-user performance by combining WAN emulation and Web loading, Daon added.

Charles Mather, a consultant with Tulsa, Okla.-based Telechoice, said that improved network traffic and monitoring performance can easily translate into squeezing the most from network resources and slashing abandoned revenue, a lingering hole that needs to be plugged for many enterprises.

"By focusing more on cost, [customers] could get better performance links and better utilization that could keep network costs down from usage based links," such as bandwidth costs and SLA (service-level agreement) verification, Mather said.

Network Physics, which introduced its NP-1000 Internet Traffic Manager appliance during N+I, is on the right track to enable IT managers to deliver traffic and push network optimization and performance through its granular view of every single packet in-flight from server response through an Internet service provider, Mather said.

In the NP-1000 Internet Traffic Manager a Java-based application runs on top of the device and interfaces with workstations to access, slice, and dice retrieved data in a customized format through an XML interface, said Dave Trowbridge, director of marketing for Mountain View, Calif.-based Network Physics.

Despite the rash of announcements and new products brazen during the hustle and bustle of N+I this week, smaller network players must seek strength in numbers to boost their appeal to customers and not de-emphasize the renewed momentum of their multifunctional larger brethren, Bugala added.

"The smaller guys have an uphill battle. Vendors who thought they could their own way [and ignore partnerships] are seeing just how shortsighted that was," he said.

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