Editor’s Note: The modern traffic shaper appeared in the market in the late 1990s. Since then market dynamics have changed significantly. Below we discuss these changes with industry pioneer and APconnections CTO Art Reisman.
Editor: Tell us how you got started in the bandwidth control business?
Back in 2002, after starting up a small ISP, my partners and I were looking for a tool that we could plug-in and take care of the resource contention without spending too much time on it. At the time, we had a T1 to share among about 100 residential users and it was costing us $1200 per month, so we had to do something.
Editor: So what did you come up with?
I consulted with my friends at Cisco on what they had. Quite a few of my peers from Bell Labs had migrated to Cisco on the coat tails of Kevin Kennedy, who was also from Bell Labs. After consulting with them and confirming there was nothing exactly turnkey at Cisco, we built the Linux Bandwidth Arbitrator (LBA) for ourselves.
How was the Linux Bandwidth Arbitrator distributed and what was the industry response?
We put out an early version for download on a site called Freshmeat. Most of the popular stuff on that site are home-user based utilities and tools for Linux. Given that the LBA was not really a consumer tool, it rose like a rocket on that site. We were getting thousands of downloads a month, and about 10 percent of those were installing it someplace.
What did you learn from the LBA project?
We eventually bundled layer 7 shaping into the LBA. At the time that was the biggest request for a feature. We loosely partnered with the Layer 7 project and a group at the Computer Science Department at the University of Colorado to perfect our layer 7 patterns and filter. Myself and some of the other engineers soon realized that layer 7 filtering, although cool and cutting edge, was a losing game with respect to time spent and costs. It was not impossible but in reality it was akin to trying to conquer all software viruses and only getting half of them. The viruses that remain will multiply and take over because they are the ones running loose. At the same time we were doing layer 7, the core idea of Equalizing, the way we did fairness allocation on the LBA, was s getting rave reviews.
What did you do next ?
We bundled the LBA into a CD for install and put a fledgling GUI interface on it. Many of the commercial users were happy to pay for the convenience, and from there we started catering to the commercial market and now here we are with modern version of the NetEqualizer.
How do you perceive the layer 7 market going forward?
Customers will always want layer 7 filtering. It is the first thing they think of from the CIO on down. It appeals almost instinctively to people. The ability to choose traffic by type of application and then prioritize it by type is quite appealing. It is as natural as ordering from a restaurant menu.
We are not the only ones declaring a decline in Deep packet inspection we found this opinion on another popular blog regarding bandwidth control:
The end is that while Deep Packet Inspection presentations include nifty graphs and seemingly exciting possibilities; it is only effective in streamlining tiny, very predictable networks. The basic concept is fundamentally flawed. The problem with generous networks is not that bandwidth wants to be shifted from “terrible” protocols to “excellent” protocols. The problem is volume. Volume must be managed in a way that maintains the strategic goals of the arrangement administration. Nearly always this can be achieved with a macro approach of allocating an honest share to each entity that uses the arrangement. Any attempt to micro-manage generous networks ordinarily makes them of poorer quality; or at least simply results in shifting bottlenecks from one business to another.
So why did you get away from layer 7 support in the NetEqualizer back in 2007?
When trying to contain an open Internet connection it does not work very well. The costs to implement were going up and up. The final straw was when encrypted p2p hit the cloud. Encrypted p2p cannot be specifically classified. It essentially tunnels through $50,000 investments in layer 7 shapers, rendering them impotent. Just because you can easily sell a technology does not make it right.
We are here for the long haul to educate customers. Most of our NetEqualizers stay in service as originally intended for years without licensing upgrades. Most expensive layer 7 shapers are mothballed after about 12 months are just scaled back to do simple reporting. Most products are driven by channel sales and the channel does not like to work very hard to educate customers with alternative technology. They (the channel) are interested in margins just as a bank likes to collect fees to increase profit. We, on the other hand, sell for the long haul on value and not just what we can turn quickly to customers because customers like what they see at first glance.
Are you seeing a drop off in layer 7 bandwidth shapers in the marketplace?
In the early stages of the Internet up until the early 2000s, the application signatures were not that complex and they were fairly easy to classify. Plus the cost of bandwidth was in some cases 10 times more expensive than 2010 prices. These two factors made the layer 7 solution a cost-effective idea. But over time, as bandwidth costs dropped, speeds got faster and the hardware and processing power in the layer 7 shapers actually rose. So, now in 2010 with much cheaper bandwidth, the layer 7 shaper market is less effective and more expensive. IT people still like the idea, but slowly over time price and performance is winning out. I don’t think the idea of a layer 7 shaper will ever go away because there are always new IT people coming into the market and they go through the same learning curve. There are also many WAN type installations that combine layer 7 with compression for an effective boost in throughput. But, even the business ROI for those installations is losing some luster as bandwidth costs drop.
So, how is the NetEqualizer doing in this tight market where bandwidth costs are dropping? Are customers just opting to toss their NetEqualizer in favor of adding more bandwidth?
There are some that do not need shaping at all, but then there are many customers that are moving from $50,000 solutions to our $10,000 solution as they add more bandwidth. At the lower price points, bandwidth shapers still make sense with respect to ROI. Even with lower bandwidth costs, users will almost always clog the network with new more aggressive applications. You still need a way to gracefully stop them from consuming everything, and the NetEqualizer at our price point is a much more attractive solution.