It's no longer enough to manage network traffic by general categories, and as businesses adopt social networking and the lines get ever more blurry between "what's work" and "what's personal," networking administrators will need tools that can clearly distinguish specific types of Web traffic at a more granular level.
That's the key driver behind Blue Coat Systems' latest upgrade of its PacketShaper appliances, version 8.6, which include what the company calls an industry-first "classification by URL category" functionality. What that provides, according to Blue Coat, is the ability to evaluate HTTP traffic on the network as exactly as, for example, determining whether a Facebook application is being used a legitimate business purpose or a time-sucking game.
Blue Coat's PacketShaper appliances will rely on Blue Coat's WebPulse, a cloud-based service comprising 70 million community members that share information on Web applications in real time. What that means is that PacketShaper appliances can categorize tens of millions of Web sites and billions of URLs into one or more of 80 different categories, from which IT managers can assign policy to particular sites and URLs.
"A lot of traffic has been moving to the Web, and there are more and more SaaS applications that are pushing traffic out on the Internet," said Steve House, senior director, visibility solutions at Blue Coat. "There is also an ever-growing amount of recreation. People more and more go to the Web when they want to have some fun, as opposed to going to TV. In between those two is a middle ground, and one example is YouTube, where companies create their own YouTube channels."'
Each URL can be assigned as many as four categories; an IT manager could tailor policy to allow employee access to Facebook updates, but prevent or limit bandwidth to Facebook games.
"If you don't have tools that can tell the difference, you're bound to have performance problems around important applications," House said. "A lot of products are still stuck at port and protocol, and all that shows you is that you have a lot of Web traffic. Some of it's important and some of it isn't. And some of them will try to pick out big Web sites, which creates a long list of applications, and every time you find one you have to decide what it is, so you spend all your time trying to keep up with whatever's new, and you fall further behind."
Blue Coat's Monday release also includes a new PacketShaper appliance, the PacketShaper 12000, which doubles the performance of the existing PacketShaper 10000 and can manage as high as 3 Gbps aggregate throughput for enterprise traffic. The company has also made enhancements to IntelligenceCenter, the reporting platform for its PacketShaper appliances, which has a 10-times increase in data collection capability, according to Blue Coat, and includes role-based controls and the ability to manage resources by device, by region and by work site.
The PacketShaper 8.6 release is available immediately as a software upgrade for existing Blue Coat PacketShaper customers. The 12000 appliance will be available in December, starting at $55,000. IntelligenceCenter 3, the upgraded platform, is available as a software upgrade for customers with up-to-date IntelligenceCenter support contracts.
Blue Coat the company continues to make technology gains, and with Mike Borman now at the helm -- the former IBM and Avocent executive was named president and CEO at the end of August -- its channel entrenchment is also deepening, House said.
Among other recent moves, Blue Coat reorganized its PacketShaper teams into a specific business unit within the company. Blue Coat in August posted a fiscal first quarter profit, reversing the losses it saw a year earlier.