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Colleges pass on Cisco, Aruba for network traffic analytics

Brandeis and Suffolk universities find more innovation in network traffic analytics with startup than with larger vendors like Cisco and Aruba.

Brandeis and Suffolk universities manage hundreds of wireless access points serving thousands of mobile devices...

that students bring to the schools each day. Keeping the busy networks humming requires innovative management tools, so the schools chose a startup over traditional vendors Cisco and Aruba to get the latest technology.

The universities found that management tools from the mainstream networking vendors didn't have the level of automation needed for organizations with limited budgets and small IT staffs, especially for those that want more network traffic analytics.

"We're a small shop with only a handful of people with a lot of work to do," said Mike Fitzgerald, a network architect at Brandeis, based in Waltham, Mass. "We're looking for products that pretty much out of the box can learn the environment and just tell you when it sees something wrong."

Brandeis and Boston-based Suffolk chose performance monitoring startup Nyansa for the cloud-based network traffic analytics platform they use to troubleshoot problems. Other startups that leverage the cloud to zero in on connectivity issues include Kentik, 7signal Solutions Inc. and ThousandEyes Inc.

The vendors have brought new ideas to a staid market, said Elisabeth Rainge, an analyst at IDC. "It's clearly time for a new class of management tools."

Traditional vendors lagging

Brandeis and Suffolk found that the management tools from traditional networking vendors began and ended mostly with their respective products. Fitzgerald, who has worked in networking for 30 years, was disappointed in Cisco management tools.

"Cisco, historically, has been really bad at their network monitoring tools," Fitzgerald said. "They just don't seem to get it right very often."

It's clearly time for a new class of management tools.
Elizabeth Raingeanalyst, IDC

The schools use mainstream vendors for other networking products. The universities have access points from Aruba, which is owned by Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Suffolk has Extreme Networks switches for the wired and wireless LANs and core switches from Juniper Networks. Brandeis has Aruba edge switches and Cisco hardware at the core.

Nevertheless, over the last year, the schools and Nyansa worked together to fine-tune the vendor's first product, called Voyance, which Nyansa launched this week. The network traffic analytics service pinpoints troubles by analyzing metadata taken from packets flowing through the wired network. Nyansa also examines data siphoned from Cisco, Aruba or Rukkus Inc. wireless LAN controllers. Nyansa sells the service through an annual subscription that starts at $10,000 for up to 100 access points and 1,000 users.

More competition needed

While the universities are pleased with Nyansa, they haven't crossed out any vendor from future purchases. "I'm a big proponent of competition," said Anupam Singh, the network director at Suffolk. "We try to pick best of the breed."

Competition drives innovation, and the schools know they'll need innovative network traffic analytics and management tools to support much larger networks in the future. Today, students use mostly laptops, tablets and smartphones. Eventually, the universities expect to support many wearable computers, including Internet-enabled watches and health monitors, and new types of devices not yet imagined.

More devices need more powerful networks, which lead to bigger deals for vendors. So, traditional suppliers are likely to get more competitive. In March, for example, Aruba introduced Clarity, a plug-in for the company's AirWave network management application. Clarity does network performance testing and monitors some metrics.

Fitzgerald and Singh agreed that Clarity appears promising, but neither had tested the product. Nevertheless, if startups light an innovation fire under traditional vendors, then tech buyers can reap the benefits of a more dynamic market.

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