The politics of QoS

By Phil Hochmuth, Network World |  Networking

When Lev Gonick implemented a streaming video system at California State University in Monterey Bay, he expected every department in the school would clamor for it. What the chief technology officer didn't expect was just how vocal each department would be about fighting for its network rights, right down to the point of helping define the policies that make the video system run smoothly.

The input Gonick receives for making quality-of-service (QoS) and network policy decisions "goes way beyond just the university's network engineers," he says, adding that representatives from administration to academics to physical plant make up a group which meets regularly to discuss how the network is used.

Vendors from Cisco to the smallest network gear start-up tout the value of QoS and policy-based network features. A recent survey of network professionals by Framingham, Mass., research firm IDC shows that QoS is being adopted by many corporations. QoS and policies define how network resources are to be provisioned among users, applications or hosts, and resources may be provisioned by hand or automatically based on time of day or user access rights.

However, many IS professionals are finding that the issues involved in rolling out a policy-based network with QoS can often be as political as they are technical.

QoS became a necessity on Gonick's network as the university began introducing high-bandwidth applications, such as voice over IP and streaming video. Gonick uses the Layer 3 priority queuing features in the Alcatel OmniCore 5052 switches in his backbone net to meter out bandwidth.

"The fact that we can get [high levels] of service begs the question - who or what gets that level of service, and why?" Gonick says.

Students at Cal State can download streaming video versions of courses if they miss a class. Various departments also use the system to hold video conferences. Gonick says QoS makes these services possible.

"[QoS] technology has enabled us to engage in some very important policy discussions on how our network is used," Gonick says.

QoS is one of many factors that has forced network professionals to become more involved in companies' overall business planning, says Elisabeth Rainge, a LAN infrastructure analyst with IDC.

"When you think of QoS, you tend to think of it in terms of slow, medium and fast speeds on a network. No one wants to be the one who gets the slow speeds," she says.

More often, "network people are being forced to work with other groups in a company to decide policy issues," Rainge says. "Deciding on network priorities is very much a consensus decision."

Working as a team may be important, but knowing the applications on your network inside and out is paramount when setting up QoS policies, says Nick Figliuolo, director of technology at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla.

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