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If you talk to customers today they will all tell you that they are generally short-handed and have little to no expertise in network management. And they will also tell you that this state of affairs is becoming a particularly acute problem when it comes to IP address management because not only do their subnets have subnets, but now they are dealing with an explosion in handheld devices that all need their own IP addresses. And starting next year, many of them will be rolling out voice-over-IP applications that will further exacerbate this problem because every phone is going to need an IP address.

Most IT organizations today manage their IP address allocations by using a spreadsheet or a database to keep track of them. The more sophisticated customers might be using tools such as an LDAP directory or products from Cisco, Nortel or Lucent to deal with IP address management. But typically the vendors charge $2 a year per IP address as part of their service and maintenance agreements, so for anybody dealing with a lot of IP addresses, that can add up.

Stepping into the middle of all this is a startup company called BlueCat Networks, which has rolled out a Proteus appliance that makes it easier for companies to manage their IP address allocations. The appliance itself can range in price anywhere from $2,000 to $80,000, but for any solution provider thinking about managed services, the opportunity that IP address management provides is pretty obvious.

In the first place, the managed services provider is already dealing with this issue across multiple customers, and in the second place the technology gives the solution provider the opportunity to open a discussion with a prospective customer’s IT department over a point of pain.

BlueCat Networks CEO Michael Hyatt freely admits that the main focus of the company’s business thus far has been direct sales to large enterprise customers, but the company has created a channel group to work with solution providers that have mostly found Blue Cat Networks of their own accord.

And perhaps more importantly from a solution provider’s perspective, BlueCat Networks sees its IP address management technology as a platform for managing everything on the network. And that may have a lot of interesting implications for solution providers looking to deliver a whole host of managed services on top of a platform that, unlike other network management systems, doesn’t require eight guys in labs coats to master.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Enterprise’s Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at