Visual Networks makes software features optional

FRAMINGHAM (10/28/2003) - Visual Networks Inc. is selling dumb network-access devices that can be smartened up later if customers decide they need to collect and analyze data that can help troubleshoot their wide-area networks.

Called Uptime Select, the new packaging of Visual Uptime gear allows customers to buy its CSU/DSUs, known as ASEs, without all of its data collection and analysis software accessible to users. But customers can pay software license fees to turn on these features as they need them.

Visual's equipment is placed between LANs and WAN links to gather data about traffic flowing through it, then store that data on a server for analysis.

The idea behind Uptime Select is that many business customers did not want to pay extra - about four times the cost of dumb CSU/DSUs - for ASEs, even though they knew the intelligence would be useful, Visual says. Most corporations with access to Visual analysis tools get it through a service provider that installs Visual Uptime gear as part of a managed service, Visual says.

"With managed services being about 25% of the market, they were leaving a lot of business on the table by not catering to the do-it-yourselfers," says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with the Yankee Group.

With Uptime Select, customers can buy into the technology for less and add features as needed. For example, M&T Bank in Buffalo, N.Y., is using Uptime Select to outfit its 712 sites, says Jim Finn, vice president of telecommunications, voice and data at the bank. The bank has bought a T-1 ASE for each site but just 150 licenses for the server software to analyze data the ASEs collect. So if there is a problem on the network, M&T can analyze data from up to 150 ASEs at a time to pinpoint the problem, Finn says.

Before, the bank had smart ASEs at about 20% of its sites and dumb CSU/DSUs made by Adtran at the rest of the sites. If a non-ASE site had a problem, the bank would drive an ASE over, install it and analyze the problem, Finn says. By the end of the year all the Adtran boxes will be replaced with ASEs, he says.

"The historical information they gather for capacity planning alone is well worth the price," Finn says.

Under Uptime Select, a base-model ASE supports a service summary screen that says whether a link is up or down, a three-day health indicator noting traffic bursts, overall utilization and alarms for particular links. The devices collect and archive data regardless of whether customers have licensed the software to manipulate the data.

The software is sold in four modules: Real-Time Troubleshooting, Back-in-Time, Traffic Capture and Class of Service.

Real-Time Troubleshooting can be used to find the source of current congestion problems, such as determining the source of bursts of traffic that are clogging connections.

Back-in-Time presents historical traffic patterns that can be used to determine whether additional bandwidth is needed to solve congestion problems or whether they are based on recent changes in traffic patterns.

Traffic Capture gathers data about traffic types like a sniffer would and presents it in a format that can be used to figure what workstations, for example, have been infected by a particular virus.

Class of Service can sort data to show an application's response time and other factors about the link it is traveling on to determine the cause of undue delay and ensure that class-of-service parameters are being met.

The software packages can use information gathered by ASE's, Visual probes or Cisco Systems Inc. routers.

Also new is Uptime's support for two popular, overarching management platforms, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OpenView and Aprisma Management Technologies Inc.'s Spectrum.

A basic model T-1 ASE costs $1,200. Real-Time Troubleshooting costs US$1,200 per site. Back-in-Time costs $1,700 per site. Traffic Capture costs $800 per site. Class of Service costs $650 per site.

Visual is still working out pricing for a token system for buying the software modules. Users would buy a certain number of tokens then spend them on access to the software modules on a per use basis. This option will be available in the second quarter of next year.

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