Cisco partner upgrades performance management

Visual Networks Inc., a maker of wide-area network performance management software, has enhanced its product, separated it from a hardware platform and broken it up into pieces that the customer can mix and match, the company announced Monday.

In a bid to give enterprises and service providers more flexibility, Visual separated its software from its ASE/DSU (Analysis Service Element/Digital Service Unit) hardware and divided it into modules for different capabilities, an offering it calls Visual UpTime Select. Cisco Systems Inc., which integrates Visual's software in its Internetwork Operating System for several of router models, also will now offer it in module form.

Visual's new way of offering its products will help M&T Bank fix network problems in its 712 locations spread across several U.S. states, according to Jim Finn, vice president of telecommunications at M&T, a regional bank based in Buffalo, New York. The bank has full-fledged Visual ASE/DSUs at 50 of its main locations, but buying one for each branch wouldn't be economical because the performance management software is rarely needed at any given small branch, Finn said. The bank plans to buy bare-bones DSUs from Visual along with "token" licenses, which are basically prepaid licenses to use the performance management software for a given time, he said.

The Visual ASE/DSU, which essentially serves as a high-speed modem for a wide-area Frame Relay or ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) connection, is distinguished from conventional DSUs because it can collect a variety of data about the performance of the wide-area connection and the applications running over it. With Visual's add-on software, IS managers can use that information to do real-time troubleshooting, track recurring problems, find the sources of problems and determine whether critical applications are getting the kinds of service they should be, according to Robert Norberg, director of product management at Visual Networks, in Rockville, Maryland.

Now customers can buy the DSU by itself, at prices starting at US$1,195, and buy only the management software modules they need. In addition, a new architecture makes it easier to integrate the management software with system management applications such as Hewlett-Packard Co. OpenView and Aprisma Management Technologies Inc.'s Spectrum, Norberg said.

By the middle of next year, Visual plans to offer new modules, such as automated network analysis software that examines several different variables at once and a tool for determining the quality of the VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) call experience. The system also will be able to collect and use information from third-party DSUs. Those DSUs don't have the same data-collection capabilities as Visual Networks' devices but can gather some information that the Visual management software can use, Norberg said.

Information about network performance is becoming more important to enterprises, said IDC analyst Stephen Elliot, in Framingham, Massachusetts. Not only do companies want to get maximum productivity out of applications such as ERP (enterprise resource planning) and supply chain management, but they increasingly are adopting VOIP systems that are sensitive to network performance.

"There's a lot of visibility that customers don't have ... and that visibility has to be combined with problem identification and diagnosis capabilities," Elliot said.

The basic model of Visual's T1 ASE/DSU is available now for US$1,195. The company's Real-Time Troubleshooting software module has a list price of US$1,195 per device. Its Back-in-Time Troubleshooting module costs US$1,690 per device. The Traffic Capture and IP Conversations module, which can help track down the source of problems, is priced at US$795 per device. The Class-of-Service Analysis module, which can analyze whether the network is treating a given application as it should, costs US$650 per device. All the modules are available now. Token-based licensing will be available starting with Visual UpTime Select 1.1, coming in the second quarter of 2004.

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