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Cisco Leaps Into Network Management

With what it deems a more granular approach to network management, Cisco's Network Application Performance Analysis suite will compete with offerings from Network General, NetIQ, and others.

Cisco Systems jumped into the network-management field today with a broad new set of products called the Network Application Performance Analysis suite.

Cisco says its new products, some of which won't be available until March, will offer real-time, automated views of network performance, predict bottlenecks before they happen, and runs 'what if' scenarios to see how infrastructure and usage shifts will affect the network. They'll be able to analyze how specific applications are performing on the network and alert managers as to whether the network or networked applications are the cause of service problems, says Cisco.

On the services side, Cisco is offering to train a customer's employees to use the products, as well as outsourced network-management services. Cisco wouldn't provide details of pricing, but says the new products are interoperable with networks from other vendors.

Cisco says it plans to take a more granular approach to network management than competitive vendors, adding that the new products complement the service-oriented approach to networking it announced last week. "This issue of correlating network performance with application performance is an area that's not been well served by the network industry or the application industry," says Clive Foreman, VP of Cisco's network management group. "So now we're stepping up." Other products being planned include software that can define service and cost objectives and provide automated control and enforcement of service.

Case Western University CIO Lev Gonic, who has been testing these tools, sees great potential benefit if they live up to their billing. "As we were looking to harmonize and reduce the number of moving parts in the management tool set, we are looking at this Cisco stuff that is just coming on," says Gonic. If Cisco can bring these tools to manage the converged applications and services like IP television, voice-over-IP and wireless at Case Western's campus, Gonic thinks he might be able to blend a few of his IT management teams into one.

Cisco will join an area rife with competitors, from NetIQ Corp. to NetScout Systems Inc. and, to a degree, Computer Associates. However, the company's entrance into the field doesn't seem to bother Network General Corp., which despite an ill-fated marriage to McAfee has been, according to research firm Frost and Sullivan, the market leader in network-management software revenue the past four years.

"While certainly they will be tough competition, what we do adds a lot of value," says Network General CEO Bill Gibson, appointed to that post last week. "We've got a long experience in doing this, and their competition will make us a better company."

Gibson thinks Cisco's suite won't be as interoperable or as robust in data capture as Network General's Sniffer Enterprise products. "Everybody else captures a sample, we capture all of the data," he says.

But with Cisco's proven track record, it would unwise for Gibson or other competitors to underestimate the new entrant.

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