Visual Networks Looks to Expand Net Management

Visual Networks wants to do more than keep an eye on the performance of your frame relay and ATM circuits: It also wants to make gear that automatically fine-tunes the performance and reliability of service-provider networks.

"The customers for these new products will be service providers, but the real beneficiary is the enterprise, because they're going to end up with higher-quality services," says Scott Stouffer, Visual Networks' president and CEO.

Visual is known for Visual UpTime hardware and software, which tracks the performance of frame relay and ATM virtual circuits so customers and carriers can measure whether service-level agreements are being met.

But Visual wants to expand into software that also manipulates routers and switches to respond to troubles that the monitoring equipment detects. For example, if a network-based application is heavily used, service management software might borrow bandwidth from a lower-priority application to keep response time down.

To accomplish the company's goals, Stouffer says, Visual plans to go on a spending spree, buying up other companies to get needed technology. "Visual has 20 percent of the pieces now. This is a two-year vision, and we're saying we're going to go out and try to pull together all the pieces," Stouffer says.

The parts Visual needs to acquire fall into five categories: general-purpose reporting software; event management software; server and application monitoring software; policy configuration management software; and software to tie all the parts together into a single platform.

The general-purpose event management software would gather data from routers and servers and make sense of it to generate alarms. Stouffer will not say what companies Visual is looking at, but he says MicroMuse and Avesta are examples of companies in this area.

General-purpose reporting software collects data and produces long-term reports to spot trends in network use. Concord, DeskTalk and InfoVista sell this type of product.

Server and application monitoring tracks transaction response time at the application layer. Companies making such software include Ganymede, Response Networks, First Sense and Aptitude.

Policy configuration management enables automatic manipulating of routers, switches and servers rather than just monitoring them. Orchestream, IP Highway and Syndesis products fit in this category.

Visual will develop APIs on its own to tie all the pieces together, Stouffer says.

While today Visual sells 40 percent of its frame relay and ATM monitoring gear to enterprises, it expects this figure will dwindle to zero as enterprises outsource monitoring to service providers.

Stouffer believes it will be some time before customers learn to trust service providers with hosting applications. The software Visual wants to provide will make those networks reliable enough to give customers that confidence, he claims.

Currently, carriers must use separate software platforms if they want to offer the range of monitoring and management Stouffer describes.

"There is no reliable method today to manage IP infrastructures. It's very chaotic and labor intensive, so it can't scale," Stouffer says.

He expects encouragement from network giants such as Cisco, Lucent and Nortel.

"Those guys have decided they don't want to be in this space but want to make sure somebody legitimate is," Stouffer says.


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