F5, Redline add software to speed app performance

F5 Networks plans to announce an upgrade of its application traffic management software Tuesday, the same day rival Redline Networks is due to release a tool designed to help IT managers limit the need to install more application and Web servers.

Both products fall into a category that analysts call Web-enabled application delivery, or "application front ends." F5, Redline and other vendors offer appliances that usually consist of specialized switches running software to speed up applications and make them more secure.

F5's software upgrade, called Big-IP Version 9 and code-named Buffalo Jump during development, took nearly three years to develop and includes a new traffic-management operating system, said Erik Giesa, vice president of product marketing at the company. The software runs on three new appliances that are priced from US$17,000 to US$35,000.

Big-IP supports traffic management functions such as data compression, load balancing and Secure Sockets Layer acceleration. New features in Version 9 offer "rate shaping" capabilities that should help IT managers ensure that bandwidth is available for high-priority applications, Giesa said.

Northwest Multiple Listing Service, has seen a demonstration of the upgraded software and plans to buy two of F5's new high-end 6400 Series IP Application Switch appliances for delivery in February, said Raymond Williams Sr., a network developer at NWMLS.

The real estate listing service has been using Big-IP Version 4.5 for three years, but Williams said that a new user interface in Version 9 should simplify administration "by far." And with 20,000 real estate agents in the state of Washington using the service via the Internet, the upgrade could help him set up rules to make sure certain applications get high priority. In addition, a new function called iRules could make it possible to ensure that the largest brokerages get guaranteed access to the listings, Williams said.

The application delivery products now on the market have been far too complex, said users and analysts. But F5's focus on a simpler user interface doesn't mean its new offerings are any less complex, said Mark Fabbi, an analyst at Gartner. "These devices do an increasing amount of functions, and the amount of expertise needed to run them is increasing," Fabbi said.

Redline said its new 3G Cache software offloads used data from servers frequently to speed up processing. The software starts at US$5,000 and runs on Redline's E/X 3250 appliance, which costs US$33,000.

F5 and Redline compete with major switch makers like Cisco Systems and Nortel Networks, as well as smaller companies like Radware, and NetScaler. Fabbi said worldwide sales of the application-boosting technology exceeded US$500 million last year.

Officials at Redline, Radware and Netscaler all said they offer functions that F5 is introducing in its new product, although Lynn Nye, an analyst at APM Advisors, said Radware still provides the features in separate boxes.

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