Policy-Based Networking

Ah, to be on the unbloodied side of the cutting edge where systems hum and life is easy. Under that guise we offer a technology tale that offers tremendous upside in sales, ongoing support and service, and profit potential.

Ah, to be on the unbloodied side of the cutting edge where systems hum and life is easy. Under that guise we offer a technology tale that offers tremendous upside in sales, ongoing support and service, and profit potential.

We're talking about policy-based networking, a technology solid enough to be ready for deployment and new enough to give the discerning reseller a leg up on the competition.

Policy-based networking, or PBN, works to control network traffic by implementing a business policy-based strategy for handling data priority. Basically, the policy—the rules a company defines—is stored on a central policy server. Switches and routers then retrieve the appropriate policy from the policy server and re-route the network according to the defined priority of the specific traffic. All of that takes advantage of routing information stored in the Type of Service (TOS) portion of the IP header to define traffic origin and, ultimately, its priority.

For now, PBN's place is strictly in enterprise networks. PBN equipment doesn't work across WAN, VPN or Internet links, and is limited to local traffic. So why bother? Simple. PBN is the technology to use where network slowdowns and lack of resources are commonplace. Understand this: PBN won't make your external connections faster. What it will do is optimize, intelligently route, and prioritize traffic across an enterprise network.

The flexibility PBN brings to the networking table is impressive. You can set priority based on location—department, workgroup, individual user—or by time.

That means, for example, that you could set up a PBN that doles out to a production department a greater share of network resources during the last week of each month. You can suppress traffic the same way, making PointCast broadcasts the lowest priority except after normal hours.

Don't expect PBN to act as a panacea for an over-trafficked network. When a network needs more bandwidth, no hot, new technology is going to solve the problem: no layer-4 switches, no routing technology, nothing—except more bandwidth.

Its weakest feature is that a PBN strategy requires office involvement. You can't create network policy if department managers aren't involved. Only by encouraging enterprisewide cooperation can you hope to build a PBN that efficaciously allocates network resources. You also need to keep managers in volved across the board, which may mean allowing them to set policy on the fly. If a department feels left out, or feels it isn't getting a fair share of enterprise resources, you're going to defeat the very aims of PBN before you're even out of the chute. The point here is that PBN is very much a marriage of corporate, social and technological policies.

Still, with careful implementation, support and design, PBN is a potent bandwidth-management tool. And resellers have a potentially huge role here. There are heaps of equipment to install—PBN-aware routers, switches, policy servers and policy consoles. Then there's training and support. Finally, there's outsourcing opportunities. There's a strong case to be made for outsourced PBN services, particularly if you can work with the various departments to set policy, keep IT happy, and then implement and keep all the network interchange points up-to-date.

David Harvey and Rich Santalesa can be reached at smartedge@reportersink.com.

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