Delivering On the Promise of Control

FRAMINGHAM (04/18/2000) - Quality of service (QoS), Directory Enabled Network (DEN) and policy-based networks - they're all about control. Together, in theory, they provide network professionals with the means not only to control how their networks are used, but also to change radically the way devices are managed. So why do such products seem to be receding into the future?

I've heard so much discussion from vendors on the topic, and seen so many months move by without progress, that the topic has taken on the same meaning as the "Free beer tomorrow" sign at a bar. A reason to rejoice? Not for anyone who has a few brain cells still operating.

Don't get me wrong. Part of this is real. QoS mechanisms exist in abundance.

That's the problem. There are so many ways to implement traffic control that sheer magnitude of choice has all but paralyzed network executives who have taken a close look at the situation.

Standards groups took the lead, with the IEEE and Internet Engineering Task Force each hammering out complementary specifications. But application vendors didn't bite. They remained blissfully unaware of application-based QoS.

Switch vendors responded by developing unique methods of peeking into frames as they transitioned the switch, thus allowing the switch to prioritize traffic without endstation participation.

Fast forward to this year. Windows 2000 offers APIs to handle every QoS function under the sun. Better yet, converged applications - the ones that will "need" QoS - are red hot.

At CTExpo last month, I thought I hit the jackpot. In meeting after meeting I would talk to telephony vendors implementing converged applications on a Windows 2000 platform. "So I imagine you're taking advantage of the QoS support in Windows 2000 to make sure your application gets high priority across the network," I would say to them. A blank stare was the only answer I got. That pretty much sums up the state of QoS.

But what about DEN and policy? The notion of DEN is great. Instead of having to configure core switches manually or through an expensive proprietary system manager, information the switch needed would be stored in some kind of shared, universal directory. The switch would take what information it needed when it needed it, allowing network support staff to have more time to practice their putting. But this notion seems to have fizzled. In 1999, several switch vendors made vague announcements about cross-something-or-other with Novell or Microsoft.

I think vendors have given up on policy and just haven't bothered to tell us.

Many use policy as a synonym for QoS - but it was supposed to be much more.

"Give the CEO high priority" was supposed to transform itself magically into whatever low-level adjustments were needed to make it so.

Unfortunately, the vendors with aggressive plans in the area, 3Com and IBM, have given up the fight. And I don't think we'll ever see policy the way it was meant to be.

Tolly is president of The Tolly Group, a strategic consulting and independent testing firm in Manasquan, N.J. He can be reached at ktolly@tolly.com or www.tolly.com.

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