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QoS software: An enterprise necessity?

A host of quality of service (QoS) software packages promise to manage network bandwidth, but are they necessary? Yes, says an analyst, as more users need guaranteed service quality and better performance.

Lately, a host of new Quality of Service (QoS) software packages have emerged on the marketplace. Many of them promise to manage network bandwidth. Some critics say that QoS isn't really a necessary tool in the enterprise, but John McConnell, principal analyst at McConnell Associates, disagrees.

"Basically, the reason you have QoS software is that more and more IT and corporate users want to have guaranteed service quality for their applications and services," McConnell said. "They want to know their availability will be a certain percentage. They're typically looking more and more at performance."

Beyond measuring and assessing compliance with service level agreements (SLAs), other QoS software actually takes action to bring the service quality back into acceptable ranges, according to McConnell.

Enterprises are often attracted to QoS software because it can help deliver services at a better cost, McConnell said. "One of the traditional ways (to guarantee bandwidth) was by overprovisioning. In today's business climate, that's a risky strategy. It means spending more money than you need to. Good QoS software allows you to use the resources you've got more effectively," he said.

"Another real requirement for things like QoS comes from an economic point of view," McConnell said. Service providers, as well as IT groups, want to price services differentially, such as e-mail access versus streaming media, he said. Part of what these groups need to show is compliance so that customers can verify that the IT group is giving them what they're paying for, he added.

Additionally, the monitoring properties of QoS software are necessary for billing purposes, McConnell said.

"One (argument against QoS) is that it's expensive, doesn't work really well and is too complicated," McConnell said. "Probably the biggest theological dispute is within the enterprise. As bandwidth gets cheaper, maybe the best strategy is to overprovision because that's cheap and simple."

Since most of an organization's network traffic stays within local area networks (LANs), purchasing more bandwidth is inexpensive, McConnell said. Another option for companies not willing to purchase and set up QoS software is to purchase either more servers or a faster server, he said.

By not using QoS, you're put in the position where you cannot guarantee service, McConnell said. "When you overprovision, you design by hope," he said, noting that companies may overprovision by 30% and hope that they don't run into any problems.

"For some organizations, that's fine. If you're trying to sell products through a Web site (and) can't guarantee things, you may be in a position where you're suffering revenue loss and bad publicity," McConnell said. "You can't prevent those problems simply by overprovisioning."

Almost any business can benefit from a QoS package, according to McConnell. Since most businesses have a significant online component, having QoS can guarantee the delivery of information and customer service in a more timely fashion, he said. For example, if companies that rely on the Web for their customer service to keep costs down have their Web site go down, customers will either pick up the telephone for service or surf over to a competitor's site, he said.

"If people are really going to do serious electronic business, then QoS is going to be a part of it," McConnell said. "In any case, I think QoS is essential.

Monitoring and reporting products in this space comes from Trinagy and Infovista, according to McConnell. Agilent, Proactive Networks and Net IQ offer software that seeks out the problem and takes corrective action, he said. Management service providers that offer QoS include Freshwater Software, Silverback Technologies, Intech and Interops. Lastly, there are the traditional management frameworks, from Tivoli, Computer Associates and HP Open View that are trying to stake a claim in the QoS space, he said.

"It's a very confused market now. Every vendor wants to be on the bandwagon," McConnell said. "QoS and policy management are hot, sexy buzzwords these days and almost every vendor tries to work it in every product they have. That makes it hard for a lot of customers to evaluate the differences," he said.

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