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How NetFlow Keeps Networks Running, People Alive

In all the technical discussions about network routers, switches, throughput, packets and the alphabet soup of acronyms that apply, it may be easy to forget that network downtime can have life-or-death consequences. For two NetFlow users, the requirements for the network monitoring technology were less dire, but the results were still compelling.

Jhune Rosario is the network systems administrator for Puget Sound Blood Center, which operates 17 sites where blood is drawn from donors and 51 hospitals that use that blood supply to treat patients. Some of those sites are a three-hour drive from Puget Sound but have only a T1 line connecting them, so the implications of that connection going down are significant.

"Recently I met a family whose son had leukemia and they had to do almost two transfusions a week. If they don't get that transfusion, that child could be in a very difficult situation," Rosario says.

The child could be waiting for blood, but with the network down, lab technicians can't confirm whether a donor in, say, Bellingham, Wash., is the right blood type for the patient, he says.

While Puget Sound is a nonprofit without the budget to replace a T1 line with a 10-Gbps connection, it has benefited from adopting NetFlow technology to monitor its network and proactively troubleshoot problems before they cause an outage. Puget Sound Blood Center, which uses NetFlow technology from Lancope, has saved $22,680 in costs for each hour of network downtime it suffered.

The blood center is one of several examples Lancope cited in a recent report on "The State of NetFlow."

NetFlow is a network protocol developed by Cisco Systems in 1996 to collect IP traffic information and provide visibility into a network. IT professionals monitoring their networks with NetFlow can see where situations like network congestion or a mis-configured switch are occurring and intervene to fix those problems. Variations of NetFlow are now widely used in networking gear from such companies as Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, HP's 3Com and Huawei Technology. Other flow-based technologies like SFlow are used by Juniper and Extreme networks. The IETF's IP Flow Information Export (IP-FIX) standardizes the flow reporting protocol, but has yet to see wide spread adoption.

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