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The vast majority of the networking gear installed in the enterprise today is what most networking professionals would refer to as dumb pipe. Networking administrators can see what types of packets are moving across those networks and make some inferences about what types of packets are associated with specific classes of applications. But that’s a far cry from being able to apply policies that determine what traffic should be prioritize based on either who sent it or its actual business value to the organization.

We’re on the cusp of a new era of enterprise networking that might sooner render obsolete every that has gone before. By applying policy engines to network traffic each customer will soon have the ability to prioritize network traffic based on what’s most important to their organization. Given the fact that each organization invariably has a different set of priorities, that means we’re about to see a new era of intelligent networks that can be optimized not only for specific application patters, but also for a specific end user.

The policy engine concept has been around for a while. But as processor technologies get more robust, the cost of applying policy engines is becoming a lot more affordable. Case in point is Exinda, which has developed a set of wide area network (WAN) optimization appliances that allow IT organizations to accelerate and prioritize specific network traffic based on polices that an IT organization can configure use the company’s 360 Dynamic Policy Engine. The company recently extended those capabilities with the release of Exinda Edge, a more turnkey approach to WAN optimization that features application packs that are targeted over 2,500 specific Layer 7 application signatures.

According to Nolan Rosen, chief marketing officer for Exinda, is an example of how policy engines are driving the emergence of a new WAN Optimization 2.0 architecture that can enables a network to be customized to fit the specific needs of any given customer. For example, not only can specific classes of applications always be given priority, an IT organization can set up a policy that gives priority to applications being used by specific users, such as the company’s most senior leadership.

From a solution provider’s perspective this creates an opportunity to have a discussion about a network upgrade that goes beyond the amount of bandwidth a prospective customer might be consuming. The value of a network that is smart enough to recognize specific business use cases is a subject of both IT and business interest, especially when the conversation involves any external facing applications.

There are plenty of forces at work, including video, cloud computing and security, that will ultimately conspire to force organizations to upgrade their networks in the next several years. But when that conversation is led by a set of technologies that can provide an immediate business value, the tenor of the network upgrade conversation moves from something the customer has to do to something they want to do.  From a channel perspective, things don’t get much better than that.