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Price-slashing could shake up WAN appliance market

One analyst says the low price of one new large-circuit WAN application traffic management device will soon cause a ripple effect of slashed prices in the market.

Bandwidth management vendor Packeteer Inc. today unveiled its new traffic management device, which enhances bandwidth utilization and wide area network (WAN) application performance across large access circuits.

While the announcement is likely to generate applause from large-circuit enterprises in search of a cost-effective answer to WAN traffic management needs, it could elicit clinched fists from rival vendors if they're forced to drive down prices to comparable levels.

The PacketShaper 1200 is a new hardware product that attaches as a transparent, or unobtrusive, application traffic management device at the edge of a WAN. It is basically designed to make full-scale deployment of several Packeteer appliances possible with its control of WAN performance and application quality of service (QoS) at remote sites and branch offices.

According to Steve House, product line manager, Packeteer developed the 1200 because enterprises demanded more WAN bandwidth and performance for new technologies such as VoIP and meshed Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) networks, which cause latency and degradation of service.

The 1200 delivers the following: monitoring, control and compression at link speeds between 128 Kbps to 2 Mbps; automatic identification and response to suspicious hosts on the network; per-flow data on hosts and applications to troubleshoot network issues in real-time; option of rolling out new applications such as VoIP; and ability to centrally report on and manage up to 1,000 appliances.

Jerald Murphy, senior vice president with Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Meta Group, said the 1200 is not ideal for small circuits because its price point is the same, if not higher, than competitors in that sector.

However, Murphy said, it is best designed for large circuits (from 384 Kbps to 2 Mbps) based on its cost-effective compression. This means cost savings with the 1200, for example, is greater when compressing 2 MB versus 256 KB of traffic.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Packeteer currently offers the lowest price for large-circuit enterprise WAN application traffic management, but according to Murphy that might not last long.

"I think Packeteer's pricing here will end up forcing the others to drop the prices they charge on larger circuits," Murphy said. "As it stands today, there is a huge difference."

Murphy ranked the low price point as the product's best feature, but said its biggest limitation is its lacking central software for consolidated reporting.

As reporting suspicious network events and preventing malicious network intrusions move up on enterprise networking administrators' priority lists, Murphy said Packeteer is doing well at limiting "unsanctioned" applications, such as peer-to-peer file sharing, but vendors in this space -- including Packeteer -- have not yet cured the itch.

"Products like PacketShaper 1200 are certainly moving in the right direction, but companies need more advances before they can really feel safe," said Murphy. "I do not think this area is being successfully addressed by most vendors yet."

According to Craig Borzelliere, network curator with transportation brokerage firm Allen Lund Co. (ALC) in La CaÑada, Calif., Packeteer successfully addressed several of his company's issues.

Borzelliere said two years ago, ALC's fiber optic circuit went dark with little notice from its previous vendor. This left the company's network -- accommodating 171 employees spread across 18 different states ---- in the unqualified hands of its redundant 1.5 Mbps T1 backup circuit.

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ALC deployed the PacketShaper 6500, Borzelliere said, after the fiber optic outage conundrum as a quick fix to satiate the need for classifying, prioritizing and reporting.

Borzelliere said he was quite surprised and satisfied with the product's performance, but over the past two years the company has grown and the need for compression, which adds traffic capacity, arose.

"We want to run compression between our different sites and purchasing several 1200s is less expensive than buying another 6500," Borzelliere said. "We still only have one 6500, but we can now distribute these affordable units all around the network at various sites to offer compression."

Borzelliere said, from an IT pro's perspective, he found the centralized management, multiple accessibility routes and real-time troubleshooting to be major benefits of the 1200.

The PacketShaper 1200 is available now and starts at $2,150.

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