The Importance of Inbound QoS Grows

As SaaS and cloud adoption grow, the need for organizations to take the reins and manage inbound QoS on their own has never been greater.

July 31, 2012

5 Min Read
Network Computing logo

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

Without inbound QoS technology, a company's alternative would be left to chance: buy more bandwidth, become more reliant on your ISP or, at the very least, hope the actions of your employees won't create bottlenecks.

"Many organizations will set some filters in their firewalls and then manually look up the URL and potentially write another filter, but this doesn't really establish QoS. It just reactively catches problems," says Laliberte. "The nice part about Riverbed's announcement is that it is making it easy for existing customers to simply download and add this capability. With their existing install base, they can cover a lot of ground pretty quickly."

Gartner's Skorupa said he looked at the results of Riverbed's inbound QoS engineering modeling and prototyping nearly a year ago and praised the vendor for doing its homework.

"Don't assume there are well-understood assumptions about what happens when a network has congestion and what one should do in terms of recovery," he says. "Some of the measurements of actual networks that Riverbed shared suggested these really well-understood models aren't necessarily quite accurate. Folklore gets institutionalized ... Frankly, some of the stuff I saw was very counterintuitive to what everybody expects will happen, and I've worked with guys that have built some of the most sophisticated QoS engines the planet's ever seen."

According to Charles King, president and principal analyst at Pund-IT, a lot of companies using SaaS providers such as Salesforce already have mechanisms to make sure their customers are getting the performance that they need.

That may change, however.

"I do think that as the playing field for SaaS and cloud expands, there may be instances where companies would be best served by taking the reins on the problems themselves and deploying a third-party solution like Riverbed's to maintain that quality of service, no matter what cloud or SaaS providers they happen to be working with."

However, King cautions, there could be a potential danger for Riverbed and other vendors as cloud becomes more common and more sophisticated. Will we see cloud and SaaS players driving solutions to QoS-related issues?

"From the end-customer point of view, you'd like to limit the number of companies you're paying for what's essentially the same service. It's not unusual in IT, where specialty players can build a pretty comfortable business by finding a niche," he says. "In this case, it's QoS performance, and that can be eroded or even eliminated by a larger player once it realizes that's a pretty nice piece of business they can take on themselves."

Gartner's Skorupa adds that it's unlikely someone would buy a product simply for the inbound QoS feature, though it's a necessity nowadays.

"It'll be for a combination of inbound and outbound QoS, acceleration and visibility capabilities, and ease of installation and management," he says. "There are some systems that are incredibly feature-rich, but they take about five PhDs just to get the box open. If you have the most sophisticated thing in the world but you can never get the bloody thing up and running, it doesn't matter."

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights