Bandwidth management is broadly defined as the control of traffic in a network. It can encompass numerous techniques, including WAN optimisation; WAN, SSL, XML and application acceleration; bandwidth allocation; bandwidth shaping; QoS; and network caching. Almost all these techniques have become niche business opportunities for vendors. Today, there are more than 25 bandwidth management vendors.

Discrete market-size projections vary, and industry terminology is in question. Still, it is easy to see why Cisco decided to embrace the market in December with its Services Oriented Networking Architecture and a new internal business group called Application Network Services. Cisco's contention that bandwidth management is the next $1 billion opportunity seemed far-fetched until one realised Cisco tossed almost every form of bandwidth management opportunity into the mix.

According to a May 2005 study by IDC, WAN optimisation revenue was $255 million in 2004 and is projected to be $611 million in 2009, for a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.1 percent. In a similar study from June 2005, Gartner listed application-acceleration equipment revenue at $967 million in 2004 ($556 million for application delivery acceleration and $411 million for network performance optimisation) and expects it to reach $2.3 billion by 2009, for a CAGR of 18.9 percent. These are not insignificant numbers.

Wide open, and no standards
The bandwidth management marketplace is wide open, with no standards or even clear, unified definitions of the technologies. The main marketing promises to the customer are the same: reduced transmission latency and cost control.

Why do so many alternatives exist? The answer lies in the foundation and success of the Internet. No network protocol has a life expectancy of forever. IP has had the good fortune of being improvable and extensible through IETF guidance and continues to meet corporate and service provider needs. The same cannot be said for the IP protocols TCP and FTP and higher-layer industry protocols such as HTTP, DNS, SSL, XML and Session Initiation Protocol. Over the years, TCP and FTP have proven reliable workhorses but also have become application latency liabilities. With greater bandwidth availability and corporate usage, the same is becoming true of almost all higher-layer protocols.

The future is obvious: Develop a service-oriented architecture (SOA) and use web services. A major benefit of an SOA is the decoupling of application business logic from underlying layered technology services.

Today, however, enhancing and extending transmission protocols is not application-transparent and non-invasive. Almost all application software is in some way closely coupled to higher-layer transmission protocols. Changing the protocol requires changing the application - not a short-term corporate option. Embedding bandwidth management features in switches, routers, servers, storage and clients is impossible without industry standards, management systems and upgrades of internal processing and memory; therefore, bandwidth management appliances and software are the solution.

The bandwidth management marketplace is broad but fragmented. Numerous overlapping products exist for a complex suite of problems. Bandwidth will never be free even in the LAN. In the past, fixing a latency or contention problem was easy: Add more bandwidth. That form of operational management sloppiness cannot exist today. More bandwidth at less cost is becoming a critical corporate issue.

The lack of standards is a serious industry issue. Proprietary vendor concepts and implementations create homogeneous rather than heterogeneous customer and vendor environments. Replacing an incumbent vendor is a difficult task. No industry leadership or focus exists to fix the inherent problems of such protocols as TCP and FTP. The battle for control within the corporation between IT and networking for bandwidth management and application intelligence control is subtle but brewing.

Bandwidth management is here to stay as long as delivering a high quality of corporate customer satisfaction is important to the bottom line. Like it or not, bandwidth management appliances and software will always exist.