Managers' choice: bandwidth now, management later

Network managers who are torn between buying more bandwidth and getting network
management tools usually decide in favor of bandwidth, said speakers on a panel at the
recent Gignet Conference in Boston.

“Bandwidth is cheap and getting cheaper,” said David Dimond of First
Consulting Group of Long Beach, Calif. Throwing bandwidth at the WAN is expensive,
however, and new telephony applications such as voice-over IP make it hard to keep up with
the demand, he said.

“It’s the nature of IP to gobble all the bandwidth available,” said L.
David Passmore, president of NetReference Inc., a network consulting firm in Sterling, Va.

Some managers try to go both ways, one speaker said. “The reality is, today’s
networks require big pipes that are managed,” said Jeffrey N. Fritz, principal
network engineer at West Virginia University’s Telecommunications and Network
Services Department.

The debate over big vs. managed bandwidth arose, the speakers said, because managers
have such limited resources to keep their networks running and their users satisfied.
Management tools help them use existing bandwidth more effectively. On the other hand,
learning to administer the latency controls, allocation and prioritization is hard.

“It’s not just a technical issue, it’s a political issue,” Passmore
said. “You have to figure out who are the haves and who are the have-nots.”

Often it is cheaper and easier just to put in fatter pipes. But even gigabit-per-second
pipes are not infinitely fat, and, speakers said, one networking axiom holds: Traffic will
always expand to fill available bandwidth.

Nevertheless, big bandwidth has staunch supporters as the most cost-effective path now
available. Network management tools are evolving rapidly, Dimond said, which makes
managers wary of buying in too soon along the price curve.

“The pendulum may swing by next year, if the tools are good,” he said.

Niraj Patel, chief information officer for General Motors’ Commercial Mortgage
Division, said he has no time to learn network management tools because he has to
integrate 15 acquisitions the company made over the last two years.

Patel said he has installed 100-Mbps Fast Ethernet to desktops and is readying a
Gigabit Ethernet backbone.

“If we didn’t have excess bandwidth, I’d have had to re-engineer
everything,” he said. Given big enough pipes, “our downtime is nothing.
Everything runs.”

Another way to stay ahead is to manage user applications.

“Get a little control of the desktop,” Dimond advised, or at least control
desktop browsing to keep users from overwhelming available bandwidth.

Fritz said a limited budget actually helps him keep his 6,000-node, multiprotocol
network humming because, he said, the users cannot afford desktop systems powerful enough
to load the 622-Mbps OC-12 backbone.   n

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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