The two sides of net smarts

The intelligent network is here, and make no mistake about it: it is going to keep getting smarter as enterprises demand that it shoulder more and more routine (and not-so-routine) tasks. The network is no longer just a simple conduit of packets from one node to another. Gone are the days of merely having to worry that the odd packet might get lost along the way, thus necessitating the original information be re-sent.

Today, new-age routers and switches can essentially govern themselves, using highly complex programming features to handle traffic with minimal input from a network administrator.

That handling can include the prioritizing of one type of packet over another as both try to make their way across an often limited swath of bandwidth. Or it can mean the outright refusal to let certain types of unidentified or suspicious-looking traffic even make their way on to the network where major havoc could be wreaked both to the network's performance and to the corporate bottom line.

The benefits of the "educated" corporate infrastructure are many and impressive. Perhaps the most notable application of the practice of traffic prioritization can be seen in the voice over IP arena. As the percentage of traffic on IP networks that is of the voice variety increases, the need to give it priority over data packets increases right along with it.

Advanced routers and switches automatically create an open lane to allow the delicate voice packets to make it through to their destination, thus ensuring that none are dropped and that the quality of the phone call is on par with traditional, private branch exchange-style communications.

The upshot of such intelligence being hard-wired into the elements that make up today's network is ultimately quicker transmissions and a higher volume of information being shared between employees, businesses and partners. That in turn will hopefully lead to more overall efficiency and better bottom lines.

This is some of the good news surrounding intelligent networks. But let us not forget that the picture is not as rosy as it seems on the surface. With such advancements come a bevy of new challenges.

The complexity of integrating these intricate devices into legacy networks is a challenge that most adopters are facing today. Configuring the routers and switches so that they will play an optimum role in one's unique business situation isn't always easy.

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