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Product Reviews
 March 2002

PacketShaper 8500

10495 N. De Anza Blvd.
Cupertino, CA 95014
Ph: 800-697-2253
Web site:

Price: $22,000-$49,000 depending on number of classes and partitions.

Editor's Choice Award

Installation: 5
Documentation: 5
Features: 4.75
GUI: 4.75
Usability: 4.75
Overall: A

While LANs are getting faster with more bandwidth to keep up with demand (i.e., Gigabit Ethernet) WAN links are still lumbering along at frame relay or T1 speeds that are typically 1.544Mbps or less. Thus, when high-speed LAN traffic has to funnel through a small WAN link, you end up with traffic congestion and user frustration. A good analogy is to imagine an hourglass where the wide top part of the hourglass represents the first LAN, the tight middle space represents the WAN link, the bottom represents the second LAN and the sand of course represents network traffic. Unfortunately, important network traffic must often wait for less important traffic to pass through the WAN link. While equality is a noble notion in most cases, not all network traffic is created equal and some packets are indeed more important that others. So how to solve this problem? The solution is to install a bandwidth management or �packet shaping� product.

Such devices act as gatekeepers between LANs and WANs, controlling the flow of network traffic and offering guaranteed bandwidth to certain network applications, depending on the policies you define. For example you can set a policy to grant more priority to time-sensitive applications such as Oracle and SAP or even Telnet, which requires immediate keyboard respond with no latency. More importantly, as VoIP becomes increasingly deployed in the enterprise, using a packet-shaping product becomes even more critical to ensure minimal latency and guaranteed bandwidth for VoIP streams.

We examined Packeteer�s PacketShaper 8500, which can automatically classify network traffic into categories based on application, protocol, subnet, URL, and
other criteria. The PacketShaper supports Layer-7 classification and can automatically pinpoint and classify hundreds of applications, including Citrix, Oracle, Microsoft Exchange (DCOM), and even bandwidth-hogging P2P applications such as Gnutella, Napster, and KaZaA. In fact, one of the biggest beneficiaries of Packeteer�s products have been universities where in the past P2P applications have caused havoc by consuming all of the available network bandwidth.

PacketShaper�s TCP Rate Control technology proactively prevents congestion on both inbound and outbound flows, eliminating unnecessary packet discards and retransmissions caused by queuing. In addition to TCP, Packeteer indirectly manages connectionless UDP flows. By directly controlling other flows, such as TCP, Packetshaper makes bandwidth available for UDP flows such as streaming audio and more importantly VoIP flows. For example, by controlling and assigning rate policies of TCP traffic such as HTTP, FTP, and SMTP, you can keep this traffic from encroaching on the bandwidth needed for UDP flows, such as VoIP. PacketShaper also lets you manage non-IP protocols IPX, AppleTalk, SNA, DECnet, and NetBIOS.

Installing the PacketShaper was a breeze. First we connected a PC directly to the PacketShaper�s Ethernet port labeled �Inside� so we could configure the IP settings on the device. We simply opened the PC�s browser, typed �unconfigured.packetshaper.com� and we were redirected to PacketShaper�s administration screen. After setting the various IP settings, we disconnected the PC from the PacketShaper and instead plugged the PacketShaper directly onto our LAN so we could have the device monitor and control real live network traffic. Thus, we had PacketShaper�s �Inside� port connected to the LAN and we had PacketShaper�s �Outside� port connected to our WAN router � a T1 leased data line to another building. Once we had performed these simple steps, all that remained was configuring the unit to control various applications on our network, (see Operational Testing).

It�s rare for TMC Labs to get too excited over a product�s documentation. Besides, who reads the manual anyway? Well, that may be the case, but it�s our job to examine a product�s documentation. When we decided to look at the PacketShaper documentation, we expected a lengthy manual due to the complexity of the product, but were pleasantly surprised at its brevity. But short documentation doesn�t necessarily mean good documentation, so we inspected the documentation further and we still liked what we saw. It was broken into organized sections that were placed in logical chronological order � explaining installation and concepts first before delving into more complex features. Several descriptive 3D drawings explained how to connect the device in various network topologies, and screenshots were also plentiful. Hmmm, documentation that is short and sweet and doesn�t �skimp� on important details? Now that is something to get excited about!

PacketShaper features policy-based enforcement of application priorities and bandwidth allocation with capacities of up to 200 MB. Administrators can control bandwidth allocation by application, server, or user to proactively prevent congestion related application performance problems. One of the nicest features of the PacketShaper is �Automatic Traffic Discovery,� which utilizes PacketShaper�s layer 7 classification capabilities to automatically identify applications running across the network. Since it classifies on the basis of layer-7 information of the OSI networking model, it can pinpoint applications such as SAP, Gnutella, Citrix, Oracle, TN3270, Napster, and other applications.

Once the classes were auto-discovered, we were able to define various service levels for the classes, including defining the minimum guaranteed bandwidth and the maximum burstable bandwidth. Thus, we could for instance define a guaranteed minimum bandwidth of 23kbps per H.323 stream to ensure good voice quality. Similarly, we could prioritize Telnet traffic where immediate keyboard response is essential.

What is unique about PacketShaper is that it doesn�t just do simple �port� mapping to determine the traffic type. For example, it is well known that TCP port 80 is for HTTP (Web) traffic. However, not all traffic uses static ports. For instance, H.323 uses dynamically allocated ports that are random. PacketShaper is able to analyze the network traffic and determine the H.323 traffic even though it doesn�t use a predefined static port. In fact, it can detect several VoIP applications, including Clarent, CuSeeMe, DialPad, I-Phone, MCK Communications, Micom VIP, H.323, RTP, RTCP, T.120, and VDOPhone.

Another problem is that some network applications can use the common TCP port 80. Examples include Yahoo! Messenger, RealAudio, Microsoft Media Player, and P2P clients such as Napster. Administrators can�t simply block port 80 on the firewall to prevent these applications, since that would block Web traffic as well. Fortunately, PacketShaper�s ability to analyze and determine network traffic by other means allows an administrator to allow or disallow specific applications, such as Napster, RealAudio, etc.

PacketShaper has an extensive list of traffic class definitions and you can create custom criteria for measuring and controlling the traffic. For instance, you can classify traffic by application, protocol, address, subnet, port number, URL or wildcard, host name, LDAP host lists, Diffserv setting, 802.1p/q, MPLS, ISL, IP precedence bits, IP or Mac address, direction (inbound/outbound), source, destination, host speed range, Mime type, Web browser, Oracle database, Citrix Published Application, VLAN.

PacketShaper supports real-time traffic monitoring and will track traffic network utilization (peak and current rates) for the link and by application (SMTP, HTTP, Telnet, and so on). You can also monitor network efficiency to determine how much bandwidth is wasted from retransmissions and monitor response time for each application. An administrator can be notified via e-mail or SNMP trap when a certain metric threshold has been reached. While many routers and other network equipment support QoS, such as by prioritizing traffic based on the ToS (Type of Service) byte in a packet header, you still need a device to �set� the ToS byte within the packets. Routers merely route packets based on the ToS byte, but they don�t actually �set� the byte. Well, Packeteer has this covered as it supports traffic marking and includes support for QoS standards such as DiffServ, ISL, 802.1p/q, or MPLS-enabled networks.

PacketShapers allows you to create partitions where you can place various network applications and break up the bandwidth pie into chunks, but PacketShapers are not just for the enterprise. ISPs can utilize PacketShaper�s partitions feature to enforce maximum bandwidth usage limits by customer or even offer a guaranteed minimum bandwidth with no maximum bandwidth utilization limit. This is pretty useful to prevent your neighbors from hogging all the bandwidth on your shared cable modem network!

PacketShaper has extensive reporting capabilities including reports, graphs, statistics, and SNMP MIBs. PacketShaper provides detailed analysis of application performance and network efficiency, displaying peak and average bandwidth utilization, response times divided into network and server delays, top Web pages, top users, top applications, and more. A useful Top Ten screen displays the top ten traffic users by average rate, peak rate, total bytes, and more. You can also predefine minimum performance standards, compare actual performance with service-level goals, and generate reports on SLA compliance � yet another useful feature for ISPs.

For redundancy, PacketShaper supports a hot spare standby unit and dual hot-swappable power supplies. In addition, if the PacketShaper is reset or loses power, a bypass switch connects the Outside and Inside Ethernet ports together so network traffic is not interrupted.

The browser interface is fairly complex, but once we figured out the various nuances, it was fairly easy to navigate and use. One usability complaint is that it didn�t have an �Undo� feature. We tested the �Easy Configure� option, which automatically assigns various priorities and settings to common network applications. When we tried to go back to the way we had it by turning off �Easy Configure�, the applied settings remained and we had to manually edit each network application to change it back to the way we had it before. Thus, we�d like to see an �Undo� feature. The unit is a bit pricey, which all but prices this out of the range of most small businesses, but certainly medium to large corporations can afford it.

One final complaint (albeit a minor one) is that you have to open the unit and remove nine jumpers if you want to set one unit as a �hot spare� or standby unit. We�d like to see a means of changing this setting via the browser interface, but probably most installations won�t have a hot spare, so this point may be moot.

PacketShaper is a perfect solution anywhere there is a bottleneck or where bandwidth traffic shaping is required. Besides typical frame relay or T1 connections, PacketShaper is a great solution for the popular WiFi (802.11b) networks due to their limited bandwidth. As more and more users hop onto the WiFi network, controlling, managing, and throttling bandwidth to corporate wireless users will become more of an issue. In fact, a great example is the New York Stock Exchange where wireless LANs are used by brokers with handheld terminals, and they must ensure that the bandwidth is allocated equally and fairly among all the traders. They deployed Packeteer�s solution to ensure equitable network access.

Also, as mentioned earlier, PacketShaper is being deployed in universities quite extensively to prevent P2P clients from bringing campus networks to a crawl. We have seen several universities start to deploy VoIP solutions from Cisco, Shoreline, and other IP-PBX vendors. By deploying PacketShaper, universities can ensure that heavy data access does not impinge on the voice quality. TMC Labs sees a bright future for bandwidth management products and we certainly see Packeteer with their PacketShaper product line leading the way.

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