Route Control

By Regina Kwon  |  Posted 2002-10-01 Print this article Print

What's the best way of getting data from Point A to Point B? It depends on what your goal is — speed or thrift. Route-control software lets administrators set rules when a network — such as the Internet — has many possible paths.

  • What is it?
    A method of identifying the best path between two points on a network—in this case, the Internet.

  • PDF DownloadHow does it work?
    Route-control software lets the user (i.e., the network administrator) set the rules and policies that define what the "best path" is—it might be the fastest route, or the one with the lowest cost. The best path might also differ depending on the priority of the data being sent. The software—typically bundled with a hardware device—monitors the network and, using those rules, finds the best path and accordingly reconfigures the routers that actually control where data is sent. Route control is descended from network management tools, like packet sniffers, that diagnose problems in network traffic; it's more advanced in that it moves past monitoring and recommending to automatically changing routes.

  • How is it different from Border Gateway Protocol (BGP)?
    Route control uses more-complex algorithms. BGP, the method supported by virtually all routers today, primarily defines the best path as the one with the fewest number of "hops"—that is, the fewest transfers from router to router. But fewer hops doesn't mean less congestion.

  • Why use it?
    To cut costs and improve service. The best path using the public Internet may be more reliable or faster than even a direct leased line, for example. If your concern is cost and your Internet Service Providers (ISPs) charge by usage, you could route across the lowest-cost backbones within certain service limits, moving to expensive connections only when necessary. And since route control changes paths automatically, you save on the cost of administrators manually changing routes according to network congestion or outages.

    But remember that choosing the best path over a network assumes that you have paths to choose from. That is, if you are connected to the Internet through a single provider—say, UUNET—you have one path, UUNET. You'd need to be multihomed, or connected to several ISPs, to make use of route-control software. (UUNET, of course, may "peer," or exchange transport rights, with other ISPs, and may use route control to choose its own best path. You might therefore already benefit from the technology.)

  • What competes with it?
    A variety of technologies, from caching and compression to load-balancing. Companies often use route control in combination with existing methods.

  • Where do I get it?
    RouteScience, founded in 1999, claims it was first in the space with its PathControl product (which Google uses). Other vendors include netVmg (Sony Online Entertainment is a customer), Opnix and Proficient Networks. Sockeye Networks, spun off from Akamai Technologies, offers route control as a service.

  • What's coming next?
    Large networking companies, such as Cisco, will soon start developing the technology or acquiring it in order to offer route-control-enabled routers, says Liza Henderson, a vice president of consulting at TeleChoice. And as soon as late 2004, she adds, variants of route control may address single-homed and non-Internet Protocol (IP) traffic.
    Think your company's needs might warrant the additional infrastructure? Find out more in Baseline's Quiz on route control.

    As Statistics Editor of Baseline magazine, Regina creates interactive tools, worksheets and project guides for technology managers. Before joining Ziff Davis, she worked as a technical program manager for a database company, where her projects included data management applications in XML, Java, Visual Basic and ASP. Her other experience includes running the new media department at Christie's Inc. and writing and editing for Internet World and PC Magazine. Regina received a B.A. from Yale.

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