Networking

VoIP gets the call, wireless security and management improve, and switches grow smarter

VoIP made itself heard in 2004, and we got the message loud and clear. We tested highly scalable IP phone systems from traditional PBX vendors Avaya and Siemens, as well as smaller-scale solutions from relative newcomers such as AIP Communications and Zultys. In most cases, we found the products surprisingly easy to set up and manage, although not typically interoperable. We’re hoping to see more standards-based solutions similar to the Zultys MX250 in 2005. We also reviewed tools that monitor VoIP networks effectively, along with scads of traditional network analysis products.

Other developments in 2004 included new highs in WAN acceleration, thanks to vendors such as Riverbed and Tacit Networks; Dell’s first core switch, the PowerConnect 6024; and laudable attempts at managing heterogeneous network devices, especially from Rendition Networks.

Improvements in WLAN security and management from vendors such as Trapeze Networks and AirDefense certainly weren’t shabby, either. These and other WLAN vendors are delivering stronger policy-based management tools and more scalable distributed systems. We’ll be following these trends closely in the coming year.

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Accelerators and load balancers
Coyote Point Equalizer E350

Coyote Point Systems
Excellent 8.6
Cost: Starts at $5,995
Bottom Line: This inexpensive, easy-to-use appliance delivers excellent basic load balancing. If your bandwidth usage isn’t high and you have budget constraints, Coyote Point Equalizer E350 is a solid solution.
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NetScaler 9400 Secure Application Switch
NetScaler
Excellent 8.7
Cost: Starts at $35,000
Bottom Line: A sophisticated appliance, the NetScaler 9400 produces dramatic improvements in response times and bandwidth usage. In addition to load balancing and Web acceleration, the solution delivers application-level firewall features and SSL VPN capabilities.
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Redline Networks E|X 3250 Version 3.3
Redline Networks
Excellent 8.9
Cost: With OverDrive, $34,995
Bottom Line: The Redline E|X 3250 provides faster response times and lower bandwidth usage for Web sites and comes equipped with the usual load-balancing and application-protection features. The OverDrive programming environment enables flexible response with minimal programming to client needs.
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Riverbed Steelhead 2000
Riverbed Technology
Excellent 9.0
Cost: Steelhead 2000 (tested), $17,995; Steelhead 1000, $9,995; Steelhead 500, $5,995
Bottom Line: In our tests, Riverbed’s WAN acceleration appliance reduced file-transfer times over slow or degraded WAN circuits by several orders of magnitude. Application-level protocol is limited to MAPI and CIFS, but the unit requires no infrastructure retrofitting and almost no effort to get it online.
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Stampede WebRider
Stampede Technologies
Excellent 8.7
Cost: As tested on IBM eServer, including license for 100 plug-in clients, $35,000
Bottom Line: WebRider does a great job reducing typical TCP and HTTP bottlenecks. This client-to-server Web traffic accelerator requires a device on only one end of the connection and reduces time spent accessing Web-based applications from a remote computer. TCP optimization, creative cache management, and Stampede’s own TurboStreaming technology make client-to-Web application performance much faster, especially over slow or poor quality WAN circuits.
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Tacit I-shared 1.6.1
Tacit Networks
Excellent 8.7
Cost: Server, starts at $21,500; remote appliance, starts at $7,950
Bottom Line: The cost of deploying I-shared 1.6.1 is easy to justify thanks to the product’s incredible performance boost to sharing files over WAN connections and subsequent improved productivity. With supporting technology still evolving, waiting for I-shared to mature may be prudent -- but that shouldn’t dissuade users suffering from acute remote-file-sharing syndrome.
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Media networking
Acterna DA-3400 Data Network Analyzer
Acterna
Very Good 7.6
Cost: DA-3400, $24,735; DA-3400 VoIP Option, $3,000
Bottom Line:The DA-3400 is a capable and mostly flexible VoIP monitoring solution designed mainly for the carrier and service provider markets. Although similar to Fluke Networks’ OptiView, the DA-3400’s implementation and price show carrier-oriented roots, which may put off some enterprise users.
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AIP Communications AIP-416
AIP Communications
Very Good 8.2
Cost: $1,250, plus $150 per user (includes Swissvoice IP10S phone for each user)
Bottom Line: Easy to implement and use, the AIP-416 is a feature-rich PBX. It works well in the typical Fast Ethernet enterprise environment and creates little extra bandwidth demand. After it’s configured, it requires little attention beyond the occasional need to add, change, or remove users.
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Avaya S8300 and S8700 Media Servers
Avaya
Excellent 8.8
Cost: S8300, 200 users, $52,000; S8700, approximately $500 per user, depending on options; 4620 IP Telephone, $495
Bottom Line: Avaya is one of telephony’s heavy hitters, and it shows in the robust design of these PBXes. The S8300 and S8700 can be outfitted to meet nearly any requirement and can be expanded to support huge enterprises. IT will find the management tools easy to use. Call setup protocols and voice streams are encrypted by default.
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bConvergent OpenVoice 2.0
bConvergent
Very Good 7.8
Cost: $85 per user, plus implementation and, if applicable, hardware and PSTN gateway
Bottom Line: OpenVoice is a highly scalable IP PBX: Its user limit depends only on the number of licenses you buy and the power of the platform on which it’s installed. It’s as feature-rich as its competitors but does require an external gateway.
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Brix System
Brix Networks
Very Good 7.8
Cost: BrixMon software, starts at $20,000; BrixMon Advanced VoIP Test Suite for SIP, $11,250; Brix 100 Verifier, $1,800
Bottom Line: Brix is the most flexible VoIP monitoring solution we tested. Although it has a service-provider component, the BrixMon version is aimed at enterprises. Its distributed architecture and price mark it for high-end installations, but enterprises with large distributed networks won’t find a more capable tool.
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Epygi Quadro4x
Epygi Technologies
Very Good 7.4
Cost: $1,695
Bottom Line: The Quadro4x VoIP appliance is small and incredibly simple to set up and use. Call quality is superb. These boxes are a boon to small and remote offices but present challenges to larger offices and those wishing to use legacy digital PBX equipment.
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Fluke Networks OptiView Protocol Expert Plus
Fluke Networks
Very Good 7.8
Cost: OptiView Protocol Expert, $3,195; Protocol Expert VoIP module, $3,500; OptiView Link Analyzer, $18,995
Bottom Line: The new OptiView Protocol Expert Plus is an excellent option for enterprise-oriented VoIP monitoring. It offers a full set of tools but comes as an upgrade to existing OptiView management software, which is already installed in a large segment of the midsize enterprise market.
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Siemens HiPath 4000 Real-Time IP System 2.0
Siemens Information and Communication Networks
Excellent 8.8
Cost: HiPath 4000, 100 users, $39,960; Optipoint 410 Standard phone, $365; Opticlient 130 softphone, $175
Bottom Line: The HiPath 4000 shows Siemens’ telephony experience. It can be configured with redundant components, can be networked with other HiPath PBXes for fail-over, and supports both digital and IP phones. The management interface is bland but very well documented, flush with tutorials and wizards.
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Spirent Abacus 5000
Spirent
Very Good 7.4
Cost: $84,200
Bottom Line: Intended for VoIP product manufacturers, Abacus 5000 measures a product’s quality and adherence to standards. It’s flexible enough to handle certain enterprise-level VoIP network management tasks, but that requires extra engineering time and effort.
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Tandberg E5780 High Definition Encoder, TT1280 High Definition Decoder
Tandberg Television
Excellent 8.8
Cost: E5780, $55,454; TT1280, $8,333
Bottom Line: Tandberg’s high-definition encoder/decoder solution provides high-quality high-definition video over IP that’s scalable, easy to use, and suited for enterprise presentation, internal learning programs, and engineering imaging.
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3Com VCX V7000 IP Telephony Solution 5.0
3Com
Very Good 8.1
Cost: 1,000 PBX users, $111,665; 3Com 3102PE Business Phone, $310
Bottom Line: 3Com’s VCX V7000 PBX is actually an app running on Linux on a standard Intel server, which makes hardware support easy. The application is simple to use and manage, and IT will appreciate the clear interface. It won’t scale to handle a huge enterprise, but it’s great for midsize companies.
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VBrick EtherneTV Media Distribution System
VBrick Systems
Very Good 8.1
Cost: As tested, with Media Control Server, EtherneTV-NXG Video-On-Demand Server, two VBrick 6300s, one VBrick 4300, and EtherneTV-STB Set Top Box, $45,000
Bottom Line: VBrick delivers a rock-solid, polished video distribution system that goes far beyond the traditional category of video codecs. It can be integrated into just about any video application through its flexible array of features, and it can be further customized through its rich programming interfaces.
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Versatel IQ1500 Intelligent Media Gateway
Versatel Networks
Very Good 8.4
Cost: As tested, $49,000
Bottom Line: The IQ1500 is a very flexible, extremely powerful VoIP solution. In addition to providing T1/E1 connections, it offers SS7 signaling, supports H.323 and SIP, and provides significant security features. Application support includes IQscript APIs for creating custom applications, as well as add-on apps from Versatel.
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Zultys MX250 Enterprise Media Exchange
Zultys Technologies
Very Good 8.4
Cost: MX250, five users, $3,000; 250 users, $44,000; ZIP 4x4 IP Telephone, $350
Bottom Line: The Zultys MX250 is a truly standards-based solution that shows just how well SIP can work when properly implemented. It’s aimed at small to midsize enterprises and will work nicely with existing standards-based infrastructure. Even better, it will support any SIP device on the network.
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Network management
Acterna DA-3400 Data Network Analyzer
Acterna
Very Good 7.8
Cost: As tested, $30,821 per chassis
Bottom Line: An excellent solution for long-term network monitoring, the DA-3400 generates flexible traffic flows for network verification and capacity testing. It has direct management features, passive traffic monitoring, and a slick and intuitive software interface, but more flexibility in media splitting would be nice.
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AlterPoint DeviceAuthority Suite 2.0
AlterPoint
Very Good 8.1
Cost: 100 devices, $19,995
Bottom Line: DeviceAuthority Suite’s audit and inventory tools are solid but somewhat uninviting. The reporting capabilities are more than adequate, and the Update Module, a unique network development environment, is well-designed and useful.
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ClearSight Analyzer 3.2
ClearSight Networks
Very Good 7.2
Cost: Software only, $7,995; gigabit Analyzer appliance, $34,995
Bottom Line: ClearSight Analyzer puts a pretty face on network traffic analysis with a colorful, all-Java interface. Reports and charts are thorough but can’t be exported. The ladder-style TCP transaction visualization and color-coded error-tracing features identify network problems easily and quickly.
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