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November 7, 2005

Network General expands product line

Network General Corp has made a slew of product announcements to underpin its strategy of broadening its offering from network monitoring to application performance analysis, reporting, and compliance-enablement.

By CBR Staff Writer

The announcement of six products, the majority of which are enhanced versions of existing offerings, came on the eve of the company’s first user conference in almost a decade, Network General having disappeared within information security heavyweight McAfee between 1997 and 2004.

As Mike Pope, president of the San Jose, California-based network monitoring vendor put it, though McAfee renamed itself Network Associates to reflect its broader security-plus-monitoring remit, they never integrated the two businesses and they didn’t invest in [further developing] the Network General technology. Network General was spun back out of Network Associates in 2004, with the infosec business returning to the McAfee moniker shortly thereafter. What had been its Sniffer Technologies division was reborn as Network General in July 2004.

The new owners of the company, VC funds Silver Lake Partners and Texas Pacific Group, bought it for $275m, considerably less than the $1.3bn McAfee had paid for it in 1997. They found themselves in possession of what, even after all the years of neglect described by Pope, was still the market leader in network monitoring. Frost & Sullivan gave it about 30% share in a recent study, with its nearest competitors all in the 2%-3% range.

However, it also identified an urgent need for investment in R&D, both to wrest the initiative in its core business from smaller players that had taken advantage of its seven-year catnap under McAfee and to use the technology as a platform to do more across the IP management space, said Pope. As a result, the reborn Network General has invested $30m in R&D over the last 12 months.

The strategy is now to leverage the company’s core Sniffer monitoring technology as a provider of data for a variety of new functions such as application performance analysis and reporting for anything from capacity-planning to compliance. The company clearly wants to lead with the Sniffer brand, and this week it is unveiling the concept of a Sniffer Enterprise Solutions architecture, casting existing and new offerings as a suite of Sniffer-based products meeting the requirements of C-level executives (CIO, CSO, and CFO) as well as its more traditional audience, the network administrator.

The low-hanging fruit for its expanding portfolio is the existing Sniffer user base of 13,000 companies, where it should enjoy upsell opportunities if it can convince them that the new products represent a way of doing more with the data than the Sniffers they have in place are already generating.

The Sniffer Enterprise Solutions portfolio consists of four parts, the first three comprising groups of products, either software modules or appliances, while the fourth is the company’s Consulting Services business, started a year ago to offer services beyond the standard break-fix. Pope said it offers expertise in areas such as WAN optimization and capacity planning. The services business also includes the Sniffer University, which has to date trained 100,000 customer employees to use Network General’s products.

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The three new product groups, each of which was featured in the announcements yesterday, are: Sniffer Enterprise Platform, Sniffer Enterprise Intelligence, and Sniffer Enterprise Management.

Sniffer Enterprise Platform comprises the flagship monitoring devices, whether fixed or portable, with which Network General made it name, and features its deep packet analysis and risk capture technologies.

Sniffer Enterprise Intelligence offers software modules to collect data from the various devices in the Platform group for specific types of performance analysis. The current offerings comprise VoIP, Mobile, Wireless, MultiSegment (for correlation of data across multiple network segments), and Application (for enterprise applications such as ERP and CRM).

Sniffer Enterprise Management enables the configuration and control of Sniffer devices with its Administrator module, plus reporting and metrics with the Visualizer module.

In Platform, Network General announced version 4.7 of the Sniffer Distributed appliances, enabling more edge monitoring as well as in the core, plus version 2.5 of the software that runs on its InfiniStream appliances, which can now analyze WAN as well as LAN data, and the InfiniStream i120, a new low end for that range. The i120 stores up to 320GB of data for analysis of the performance of network edge devices, compared with the terabyte of data stored by the existing i420 and 4TB by the i1620.

In Intelligence, there is version 4.0 of the MultiSegment Intelligence module, enabling you to see what segment an application’s not performing on, said Pope.

Finally, in Management, the company unveiled version 4.0 of Administrator, with enhancements to its centralized management, administration and security capabilities, as well as version 4.0 of Visualizer, with new reporting features and deeper functionality, allowing companies to track internal SLAs through network and application baselines, for instance, as well as allocating and tracking internal costs.

In broadening the portfolio to increase Network General’s addressable market, Pope acknowledged that the company is in part in catch-up mode. A lot of our ankle-biting competitors are only there because we didn’t invest in R&D for so many years, he said.

Pope cited the example of WildPackets Inc, which was founded to exploit the market for portable monitoring devices, whose business was, he said, to sell products that were almost good enough for half the price of ours, an issue Network General addressed last year by shaving $2,000-$3,000 off the price of its portables and more than doubling its unit sales.

As for the move up the stack into reporting, Pope said this threatens the livelihood of companies such as NetScout Systems Inc, which again moved into a gap in the market left by Network General’s failure to invest at the time, in his opinion. We’re now investing in R&D what these companies are making in revenue, and we’re serving notice on the ankle-biters that Network General is back, he said.

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