Vendors Make Service Level Management More Active

Service level agreements (SLAs) are becoming the norm in corporate networks. Although many companies have service contracts in place, the system measurements and enforcement of agreements is a different story altogether.

Analysts speculate that even the vendors that offer SLAs do not have adequate means of measuring them, and, likewise, customers do not have an efficient way to enforce the contracts.

The current crop of service level management (SLM) solutions only addresses the monitoring of network performance. Vendors, however, are beginning to take the concept to another level by creating active service level management (ASLM), a method of ensuring that customers get the level of service they paid for.

According to a report by research firm Current Analysis Inc. (www.currentanalysis.com), ASLM is a combination of SLM and bandwidth management.

ASLM is designed to prioritize bandwidth so mission critical applications are allocated enough bandwidth to ensure optimum performance. This is expected to become increasingly important as data and voice networks converge.

The report, by Chris Nicoll, director of infrastructure analysis at Current Analysis, also states that the integration of ASLM and network management is a step toward bringing users closer to policy-driven networks.

The first ASLM offering emerged last month from an agreement between Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Agilent Technologies Inc. (www.agilent.com) subsidiary and NetReality Inc. (www.net-reality.com), a WAN-based application accelerator.

Through the agreement, users of Agilent's NetMetrix Performance Center, released in August, will be able to proactively manage bandwidth by employing NetReality's Adaptive Circuit-Based Shaping (ACS) traffic technology.

NetMetrix Performance Center summarizes the current and historical health information for an entire network, including LAN, WAN, ATM, and switches. Its open architecture permits the integration of third-party technologies.

NetReality's ACS technology adds to Performance Center's functionality by giving users proactive management capabilities to ensure that mission-critical traffic gets top priority when network congestion strikes.

Agilent and NetReality will market several network performance and bandwidth shaping solutions that encompass products currently available from both companies. These products include Agilent's NetMetrix Performance Center and NetMetrix T1 probes, as well as NetReality's WiseWan traffic shaper.

"The parts are not entirely unique," says Larry Loper, vice president of marketing at NetReality. "What we do that is unique is the three-legged stool of shaping, monitoring, and packet consolidation."

In this model, NetReality's WiseWan traffic shapers will transparently collect monitoring information from NetMetrix probes and allocate bandwidth to the appropriate key applications as directed.

For example, after ascertaining that a dominant protocol such as SMTP or FTP is saturating a link, a WiseWan traffic shaper user could employ ACS technology to limit this traffic and ensure that SAP or other mission-critical applications get top priority.

Loper says third-party testing shows that SAP, when buried under heavy FTP and HTTP traffic, can be managed with this solution to achieve 10 times the performance it would normally get without the management.

The companies claim to have successfully tested and confirmed that NetReality's WiseWan traffic shaper and Agilent's NetMetrix T1 probes work in tandem and can support one or more T1 links with a combined speed of up to 5 megabits running over frame relay or leased lines.

Additionally, the two companies are evaluating plans to integrate NetReality's ACS technology into a future release of NetMetrix Performance Center.

Currently, the solution consists of two separate boxes, both of which typically sit on a v.35 line or a T1 line.

"We think we can make a cleaner solution down the road, maybe one box instead of two," Loper says. "We need to find out what integration needs to be done: It may be hardware and software, or maybe just software."