Agilent Makes Sense of Network Billing

Since the dawn of the corporate digital telephone network, keeping track of long distance usage throughout a company has been simple. Now, billing can be done more efficiently to reflect the needs and profiles of departments or individuals in a company.

It makes sense then that the same principle could be applied to network bandwidth usage. Access to the phone network and access to the wide area network (WAN) follow parallel paths. In many cases, the two services are provided by the same carrier.

The NetMetrix Billing Center solution from Agilent Technologies Inc. (www.agilent.com), a subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP, www.hp.com), applies to the WAN the same common sense logic that has benefited those who track long distance phone usage.

Fortune 500 companies face an average of $10 million in annual bandwidth costs, and the top 200 incur an annual cost of about $50 million, according to a June 1999 report by the Yankee Group (www.yankeegroup.com) titled Usage-Based Billing: Bandwidth Savings with Minimal Downside.

"Network bandwidth still is one of the top three IT budget hogs," says Anita Manwani, general manager of Agilent's NetMetrix division. "Our goal is to make sure people don't stop using the network, but understand the cost of it and apply the same thinking they would a long distance call."

The Billing Center, the newest part of the NetMetrix portfolio of WAN and LAN management products, is a network-usage-based billing system so CIOs, CFOs, IT managers, and service providers can all speak a common language. These individuals can view network consumption in a detailed and metered monthly billing format, similar to most telephone bills.

This enables network managers to identify and price network use by time-of-day, application, protocol, user group, and distance. With this data, those managers can then provide departments with monthly bills outlining network consumption in dollars and cents.

"Once you have this information, business managers can make decisions on what policies that want to set within their department," Manwani explains. "Treat this WAN as a finite resource and bring accountability so people do understand people are paying for what they use."

Manwani says besides accountability, there are a number of business decisions that can be made, using this information. By analyzing peak and off-peak times for bandwidth usage by department, network managers can decide who should have more bandwidth at certain times of the day.

Also, if one department is requesting more bandwidth, they can use this data to show the necessity. A network manager may want to purchase more bandwidth if they can justify to the CIO that the boost will increase revenue. In the end, Manwani says, managers use this to open dialogue that was difficult before because nobody understood a direct language. Now IT goals are aligned with business goals.

The NetMetrix Billing Center consists of three subsystems. Data collection, which runs all the time, measures bandwidth levels and sends the information to the billing management subsystem. This subsystem allows a manager to set up how he or she will bill each department, based on office or department, or something else. The third subsystem is for configuration and reporting.

The first release of NetMetrix Billing Center is available now on Windows NT/2000 and Sun Solaris. It loads directly into the HP OpenView console to take advantage of those services as well.