Router Control: New Net Traffic Cops

Router control is vital to enterprises with multiple connections to the Internet (multi-homed networks) such as large organizations with high-traffic, public-facing Web sites

Bandwidth prices may be dropping, but IT budgets are falling even faster, leading to a quest for more efficient ways to route traffic over the Internet. Several start-up vendors of router control devices are launching new and rival ways to reach that end.

Router control is vital to enterprises with multiple connections to the Internet (multi-homed networks) such as large organizations with high-traffic, public-facing Web sites. However, the sectors vendors are working to bring the same level of routing security and reliability available to large enterprises to the midsize players, which can use similar router control technology to reduce the cost of site-to-site applications, especially VPNs (virtual private networks).

The router control sector breaks down roughly into two approaches: stand-alone products – offered by vendors such as RouteScience Technologies Inc. and NetVMG Inc. -- and service provision – offered by Sockeye Networks Inc. and Opnix Inc. The approach that offers the most benefits depends largely on whether one believes most Internet traffic congestion problems reside at the core of the network or at the edges. Analysts cite benefits to both approaches.

Early next year RouteScience will expand its PathControl product line to include a smaller, eight-slot PathControl chassis, targeted at enterprises linking regional offices. The new product can be used by current RouteScience customers who use the technology for customer web sites or it can be used by new customers interested only in site-to-site applications.

For site-to-site uses, RouteScience emphasizes two main characteristics as particularly advantageous: PathControl measures both inactive and active routes, and it automatically updates an organizations edge routers in real time with the optimal routing information. For the public-facing Web site application, the company touts the benefits of maintaining the technology at an organizations own location.

"Most of the time, problems arent at the very core, problems are around the edge of the network," said Andy Gottlieb, vice president of marketing at RouteScience. "Whats going on at the core of the Internet is almost never a problem."

Rival vendor, Sockeye Networks, disagrees. "There are congestion problems at peering points, at backbones, and at intermediate networks along the way," said Brendan Hannigan, vice president of corporate strategy at the Newton, Mass. company. "The challenge of passive monitoring is that its not great at understanding the performance of alternative paths."

Sockeye touts an exclusive partnership with Akamai Technologies Inc. as giving it an edge above the competition. Akamai maintains a global network of more than 13,000 servers, allowing Sockeye to rapidly detect congestion anywhere on the Internet. "We can detect problems pro-actively even if traffic is not moving at the time," Hannigan said. "When we suggest routing changes, we have already determined what the performance will be."

Last week Sockeye publicly rolled out its GlobalRoute service, which combines the global measurement of Internet traffic with edge measurement devices located at each multi-homed site. Like its rivals, Sockeye is promoting essentially the same technology for public-facing web applications and site-to-site applications.

Recognizing that the global data input is not as important in VPN-type uses, Sockeye prices the site-by-site applications lower than the web site applications.