As SaaS, cloud computing, collaboration tools and other technologies continue to take root in the enterprise, so has the need for IT administrators to take control of the network's inbound quality-of-service (QoS) capabilities.
"Inbound QoS is a part of the toolkit you need ... Increasingly, we're seeing traffic from multiple locations terminating in something other than the data center," says Joe Skorupa, a VP and distinguished analyst, data center convergence, at Gartner. "The receiving end needs to be able to manage the multiple endpoints that are sending to it.
"This many-to-many traffic model frankly is pretty new. It's around unified communications and multipoint videoconferencing; it's about new forms of collaboration software."
Managing inbound QoS is a significant challenge for any organization that allows its employees to access the Internet, according to Bob Laliberte, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.
"The idea of providing more granular QoS on an application level will allow organizations to be more selective about what applications get throttled down or restricted and, conversely, what applications get priority," he says. "The difficult part is just knowing what is consuming the bandwidth. Once you know, then you can take action."
Vendors are diving in with tools to help enterprises take action. Riverbed Technology recently announced a new inbound QoS feature in its Riverbed Optimization System, the software that anchors its line of Steelhead WAN appliances. Other vendors providing QoS capabilities include Ipanema Technologies, Blue Coat Systems, Silver Peak Systems and Exinda Networks.
While Riverbed isn't the first to provide inbound QoS capabilities, its timing is about right, says Skorupa. "It's something Riverbed needed to do," he says. "It's good that they did it. Were they years late? No, because these are things people are beginning to use ... Would it have been nice to have it a year ago? Sure. Would it have been bad if they waited another year? Yes. It would have put them behind the eight ball. There have certainly been some folks that have built very good QoS systems well ahead of Riverbed. From what I know, the one [Riverbed] built is very, very good--it's as good as anything I've ever seen, and potentially it's better."
Skorupa adds that Ipanema has a feature-rich inbound QoS and the management system to go with it: "If you have to go out and touch every box hundreds of times over, it's a nonscalable problem. Without the right management infrastructure, the QoS feature itself is theoretically interesting but not terribly useful.
"Of the actual [Riverbed] QoS engine itself ... everything that I've seen suggests they've done a really good job. They've been very thoughtful about how it works. I haven't seen the final management system so I can't tell you how easy or hard it is to configure."
Next: A Look at Riverbed's Inbound QoS Capabilities