Packet shaping network traffic involves setting policies for network usage that prioritizes one type of communication over another. For example, you can assign your messaging traffic a higher priority than your data backup traffic, and thus it will appear that your messaging system has a higher bandwidth available to it. Packet shaping products can be either software products or software combined with a router or switch that monitors and classifies your network traffic. There are two products that are specifically designed to enforce this type of network management capability: Packeteer's PacketShaper, and the Allot's NetEnforcer, and both of these products have a Web based configuration management tool.
Packet shaping also offers a means for providing a Quality of Service or QoS function that can provide a dedicated network bandwidth for specific applications. The tool you use should be able to identify network traffic by several different methods: IP addresses of origin and destination, the TCP/UDP ports used (which identifies the application(s) used), QoS tags, and additional measures. Identification provides the means to classify traffic and enforce the policies you create. Another function that is important in this regard is a measurement and metrics function that reports on network traffic to you, and can alert you when there is unusual traffic patterns. Metrics can be exported to a database for additional analysis. When you have the means to provide a QoS function, you can not only improve your network's performance but you can also create a charge-back function that lets you have the people who create the network traffic pay for that traffic in a measurable way.
One competitive review on these two packet-shaping products may be found on the Carnegie Mellon Web site. This review contains a nice feature chart comparing PacketShaper and NetEnforcer that will let you determine which of these products you might want to consider.
Barrie Sosinsky is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.