Data transport system gets more management tools

Long-distance, large-scale data transmissions will become more reliable and easier to control with enhancements announced Monday for Digital Fountain Inc.'s Transporter Fountain.

The platform, designed to let enterprises take full advantage of the bandwidth available to them on private WANs (wide-area networks) and carrier services, will get reliability and management enhancements in its second version, according to Charlie Oppenheimer, vice president of marketing and business development at Digital Fountain, in Fremont, California.

Transporter Fountain 2.0 gains a dual data stream function for failover capability with load balancing, as well as tools to control how much bandwidth a transmission consumes and a method of sending very large files in a continuous stream.

The Transporter Fountain is designed to avoid delay problems inherent in using FTP (file transfer protocol) over long distances, Oppenheimer said. That commonly used technology has to wait for confirmation that one shipment of data has arrived safely before it can send the next, a back-and-forth process that keeps a server or storage device from sending as much data as it might over long distances.

The product works by not sending the data at all, but rather sending what Digital Fountain calls meta-content: a series of identical equations that describes the data that needs to be sent. Because of a principle of mathematics called simultaneous linear equations, only a certain number of these equations is needed to decode the data at the other end. There is no need for resending lost equations, so there is no need to wait for delivery confirmations before sending more data, Oppenheimer said.

Freed of this constraint, enterprises can use whatever portion of their available bandwidth they wish for sending information between a central office and a branch or between a main data center and a backup facility, he said. With that bandwidth, they can transfer large amounts of data over the network instead of shipping tapes, which can take days and doesn't give administrators the latest data if they try to reconstruct the record after a disaster.

Entertainment company Warner Elektra Atlantic Corp. recently built a backup data center in California to store information from its manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania. Backing up data on tapes and sending them out to the backup data center would take days, said Michael Streb, vice president of infrastructure services for Warner Elektra Atlantic, a division of AOL Time Warner Inc.

"We knew shipping (data) back and forth wasn't going to keep us in synch," Streb said. The company explored alternative systems but said they couldn't handle the volume of data it needed to transport.

When the backup data center was first established, the company cordoned off 42M bps of a 45M bps private WAN link and sent two terabytes of existing data in less than 48 hours.

"It doesn't suffer from latency at all," Streb said.

The latest version of Transporter Fountain includes a feature called Fountain Pool, which allows the appliance to send its data over two separate paths. In case of failure on one link, the remaining connection can quickly take over. It will also include Pipeline, which allows one part of a large file to be loaded into the appliance while another part is being sent over the WAN. This will allow companies to send files of any size, according to Oppenheimer.

Bandwidth caps also are coming with the new version, which will let administrators set a maximum amount of bandwidth that the Transporter Fountain can take up on the network. Another new feature, tunable rate control, lets companies set up a Transporter Fountain data stream to share bandwidth with other applications. The priority of the job will determine the exact amount of bandwidth it takes up at any given time. The company also is adding delivery confirmation, which sends a confirmation to the sender that a transfer has been completed.

The Transporter Fountain could play a valuable role in WAN management, according to Lucinda Borovick, an analyst at IDC, in Framingham, Massachusetts. IDC is a division of International Data Group Inc., parent of IDG News Service.

"Bandwidth is always limited, and you need to have a way to manage how these applications get over the network, and you want to put some management in so one application doesn't take over the network," she said.

Moving from tape shipments to network transfers can mean better security, she added.

"Once it's on a tape, it can go anywhere," Borovick said.

The Transporter Fountain 2.0 appliances are available immediately, priced starting at US$35,000. Transporter Fountain 1.0 customers can receive the upgrade to 2.0 free as part of the company's maintenance agreement.

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