John Collins, Total Immersion

It always seems quite ironic to me when I read how industry analysts are accused of ‘bigging up’ vendor offerings, when I and my peers seem to spend so much of our time resetting the expectations of over-optimistic marketeers. Indeed, without such a position, we would offer a far less useful service – on occasion I have been positively surprised that certain companies have wanted to work with us at all, given the utter trouncing we have given their products or how they are taking them, like Beanstalk Jack and his cow, ‘to market’. I should perhaps apologise (and I frequently do) for being so direct – we want people to get the best out of your technology, we really do, so we’d rather be straight with you.

As such, it can be quite a relief when something comes along that is so clearly, obviously useful to so many organisations. Like Internet Protocol (IP) address management, for example. I can’t confess to know the whole space in technical detail, but here’s the skinny from my perspective. It is a well-known fact that the number of devices that need an IP address to connect to the enterprise network, or indeed the Internet has rapidly outstripped the original numbering standard, of 32-bit addresses enabling a potential four thousand million addressable devices. Such things as Network Address Translation (where a local router/address server allocates IP addresses on an as-needed basis using a local subnet, and then translates between local addresses and a reduced subset of externally-visible addresses) have helped reduce the burden somewhat; as of course has the arrival of IPV6, which extends the number of addressable devices to 2^128 (a very big number).

However, a remaining issue is how to manage said pool of addresses. These days the number of required devices has increased dramatically, notably with the arrival of Voice over IP (VoIP) handsets, which are replacing traditional, analogue telephones. From an address management perspective, the Domain Name Service (DNS) protocol is the standard for allocating specific address ranges to specific subnets, but some organisations are ending up with a large number of DNS servers, which themselves have to be managed. The original protocols were never conceived to manage the address allocation, deallocation and reallocation process on such a scale – and don’t facilitate the cataloguing of what address belongs to which department (Microsoft Excel is a more used, but still inadequate tool). Theoretically, organisations could of course allocate addresses statically, once and for all – but all it takes is an office move (requiring a number of devices to move from one subnet to another) and all hell breaks loose.

So – IP addresses need managing, and existing mechanisms aren’t cutting the mustard. This is the breach into which are stepping organisations like BlueCat Networks (who I have spoken to), and Alcatel-Lucent, BT-DiamondIP and Crypton Computers (who I haven’t – but these chaps have) – essentially delivering management tools and distribution mechanisms that really can cope with such huge numbers of addresses and offer quite some respite to those managing the IP network. It is notable that, when I asked BlueCat whether I could speak to a customer, they jumped at the chance and before long I was speaking with Investor AB, a Swedish organisation.

On the call I learned little that was unexpected: yes, the problem existed and was real; yes, it was for the reasons I understood; and yes, the deployment of BlueCat’s address management solution had been a great help. What’s there not to like, I said as we finished the call. And yet, I was left feeling a little puzzled at the end of the call. Notably, whether by agreeing with the problem and solution, I was in some way implicated in yet another attempt to foist unnecessary technology on an unsuspecting public. Particularly in this case – where the solution itself resolves an indisputably technical problem.

But however we might like things to look, the problem does exist and so does the solution. Just as the invention of carpets required the subsequent creation of carpet cleaners, so can today’s overstretched networks benefit from address management. This won’t be a panacea for all ills – it never is, and it should go without saying that technology can never be more than a crutch to poor operational processes or bad managers. I could add a string of caveats at this point but I won’t – rather, I will acknowledge the fact that most network managers do have their heads screwed on pretty well, and defer to their ability to decide whether this would be an appropriate technology for them.

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