Cisco to rescue network operators from blame game

Cisco Systems Inc. is expanding its offerings to include diagnosis and testing products and services under the Network Application Performance Analysis (NAPA) brand, a move described as long overdue by one IT industry analyst.

Earlier this week, the San Jose, Calif.-based network equipment manufacturer announced the immediate availability of its Application Analysis Solution and Network Planning Solution.

Two other NAPA products, the Bandwidth Quality Appliance and the Performance Visibility Manager, are scheduled for release during the first quarter of 2006.

Performance Visibility Manager, which includes a graphical user interface for analyzing traffic and capacity planning, is designed to help administrators figure out whether an IT problem is caused by a network problem, or whether it’s a problem with the software running over the network.

If an application fails to respond, or is more sluggish than usual, “the network person is usually guilty until proven innocent,” said Cliff Meltzer, senior vice-president of Cisco’s Network Management Technology Group.

“You want to give tools to the network operator that quickly determine what is the real cause of degradation. Is it in the network? Is it in the client machine? Is it in the Web service machine? Is it in the database machine?”

Regardless of how the problem is caused, executives are starting to hold network administrators accountable for all network-related application problems, said Zeus Kerravala, vice-president for enterprise architecture at the Boston-based Yankee Group.

“I don’t think it’s good enough for the network managers to say, ‘It’s not my problem,’” Kerravala said. “Even if it’s not their problem, I think at the minimum they need the tools to prove it’s not their problem.”

Cisco Application Analysis Solution analyzes traffic at the application message and network packet levels, and breaks down multi-tier applications into component flows.

In addition to monitoring application performance, NAPA also includes tools to help predict the effect of adding an application to the network, Meltzer said.

“Changes that may disrupt something else are caught, and you’re allowed to diagnose and fix those problems before you create another problem on the network,” he said.

Cisco has “almost ignored” the need for this type of product, Kerravala said.

“It’s about time they started looking at management tools and the manageability of their stuff,” he said. “I think they’re a little tired of having to rely on third-party vendors all the time to manage their own stuff.”

NAPA is part of Cisco’s Intelligent Information Network (IIN), which is the company’s strategy of using communications technologies to help companies cut costs and boost revenues.

Cisco’s overall strategy also includes Application Network Services (ANS), a set of technologies announced last week that are designed to make network components work with messages and applications, rather than just packets and protocols.

Although Cisco is also offering network planning and modeling services with NAPA, these should not compete with services offered by Cisco’s reseller and integrator partners, Kerravala said.

“I think it would help their partners out more than anything,” he said. “I think the majority of their partners aren’t very good at troubleshooting application problems, so I would think that would be almost welcome by the partners.”

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