Allot's 5-Gbit/s Gamble
The new product, the NetEnforcer AC-2500, is largely the same as its 1-Gbit/s predecessor, the 1500, Allot officials say. The AC-2500 model does contain some enhanced software functionality, but it’s the hardware -- the improved network interfaces and high throughput -- that constitutes the leap forward.
Minneapolis-based Allot’s customers are mainly broadband providers -- telephone companies, cable companies, and ISPs that manage large amounts of network capacity and need to "allot" just the right bandwidth for each application.
“More throughput is a real need for larger customers, because next-generation applications require more bandwidth, and the more throughput you have, the more you can monitor and control,” says PG Narayanan, CEO of Allot Americas.
On this much, analysts agree. “There is a definite benefit there for the higher-end service providers to have the high bandwidth,” says Steve Elliot, senior research analyst at IDC. “From a quality-of-service standpoint, it is very important to understand the bandwidth usage needs of your customers.”
But Elliot is less convinced that Allot’s 5 Gbit/s of throughput will be a must-have for service providers in the near term. “I think they will sell some product next year, sure, but I think many service providers will stay with their existing traffic management systems, and perhaps try to improve throughput with their own customization.”
Oppenheimer and Co. research analyst Bill Becklean says of Allot: “Their main selling point has always been better product performance. I just don’t think there is that much demand for it right now.”
Amazingly, Allot's Narayanan doesn't agree with the analysts. He points to a new generation of applications: VOIP, video on demand, and telco video, that will require more bandwidth from all network elements -- even bandwidth managers.
Then there is the complexity added by peer-to-peer file-sharing applications like Kazaa: The shared files require significant bandwidth, and often users from outside the firewall are using local network resources to share files with users on the inside. P2P exchanges can gobble more than 80 percent of available bandwidth (see Controlling P2P Traffic).
“The bad aspect of P2P is a lot of people downloading who are not on your network, and then your own customers don’t have enough bandwidth for applications like VOIP, so they get upset and switch providers," Narayanan says.
The problem of outside users utilizing network resources also applies to VOIP. As Narayanan sees it, network administrators must have a clear understanding of how many inbound VOIP calls originating from without are using up local network resources.
IDC's Elliot concurs that there is a growing intolerance for poor network performance over wide-area networks, which is driving demand for better traffic management solutions in both the enterprise and service provider markets. But he's still not fawning over a 5-Gbit/s box. “This one product is not that revolutionary per se,” he says. "What it shows is that there is a higher level of execution in this space."
The AC-2500’s other major improvement consists of a more varied interface to the network. The hardware now supports eight ports of Gigabit Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, or Packet-Over-Sonet (POS) over OC3, OC12, and OC48 interfaces.
One Allot competitor, Packeteer Inc. (Nasdaq: PKTR), which sells mainly to enterprise customers, is skeptical about Allot’s new release. “It’s vaporware,” sniffs Packeteer director of worldwide marketing John Fomook. “Allot has a history of announcing soon and delivering late. I don’t think we are going to be seeing their 2500 product available to customers anytime soon.”
Fomook also declined to concede that 5 Gbit/s, even if a verifiable figure, would be attractive to service providers. And it's hard to deny that there's a lack of market momentum in the space, especially following Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) acquisition of P-Cube Inc. (see Cisco Reroutes Traffic Management and Allot Reports Soaring Sales).
The AC-2500 will be available in the first quarter of 2005 with a starting list price of $50,000.
— Mark Sullivan, special to Light Reading