SBC offers self-managed network option

SBC Communications is letting its network customers manage corporate networks on their own, giving users the option of monitoring service levels rather than paying the carrier to act as network watchdog.

The new offering, called SCNM, or Stand-Alone Customer Network Management, was announced Monday and presented as a way for business customers to reduce costs and increase network performance through traffic management and remote troubleshooting.

To keep their own eyes on their corporate networks, SBC customers must purchase their own network monitoring devices and software from Visual Networks Inc. The Visual UpTime Wide Area Network service management system places an intelligent network device called an analysis service element on the network. The device passively monitors network traffic, looking for shortfalls in bandwidth or poor use of network resources.

The system allows network monitoring for "customers who don't want carriers to have visibility into the kind of information going into their network," said Matt Gowarty, a Visual Networks product marketing manager. Software companies sending code over their networks may not want to risk a security breach by giving their service provider the kind of access a monitoring system would provide, Gowarty said.

Hosted network management generally costs in the US$25 range monthly per frame relay connection, increasing in price as the bandwidth increases, Gowarty said. A lower-end analysis service element costs about $1,200, with back-end hardware and software adding about $15,000 to $16,000 to the price.

Smaller companies may still wish to use the hosted management services of their service provider because of the entry costs for self-managed networks. But larger companies looking to squeeze every dollar from their network may be able to justify the purchase.

"IT staffs are really getting cut heavily, and companies are trying to do more with less," Gowarty said. "Monitoring SLA's (service level agreements) is one way to see if you're getting what you paid for. Customers don't know what bandwidth they're using. It's a best guess."

Some network managers see their carrier monitoring network performance the way farmers look at foxes guarding their hen house. A more objective eye can reveal flaws in performance.

Network managers rank availability and uptime as the most important service issues, said Jared Huizenga, senior market research analyst from Sage Research Inc. In research published in October, the issue of penalties for noncompliance with SLAs, and notification time on security breaches, also received very high importance ratings from network managers, he said.

Network managers generally aren't aware of some of the things they can get from an SLA, partly because it can be hard to tell when service providers violate an agreement's terms, he said.

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