Nortel switch software gives streaming a boost

Nortel Networks Corp. last week rolled out software for its Alteon line of Web switches, aimed at improving enterprise security and wireless device support, and speeding access to streaming media servers.

Users who install Alteon Web OS 9.0 on Alteon Web switches could implement load balancing among intrusion-detection appliances, making them more reliable and boosting performance.

The software also includes support for Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) server load balancing, which could be used to better service wireless handheld devices in a company, Nortel says. Also included is load balancing support for real-time streaming protocol (RTSP) servers.

Nortel's Alteon products compete with Web switches from Cisco Systems Inc., Infolibria Inc. and NetScaler Inc., which feature similar support for RTSP, WAP and security acceleration.

RTSP load balancing works like HTTP-based Web server load balancing in that a Web switch examines data from the seventh layer, or application layer, of a packet, letting it determine if it is part of an RTSP videostream.

A Web switch running Web OS 9.0 would sit in front of a farm of streaming media servers - such as RealNetworks boxes - and look at Layer 7 packet information to determine the most available server before starting a stream. This could speed access to multimedia content by preventing any one server from becoming bogged down with streams.

In wireless enterprise deployments, the switch could sit in front of a farm of WAP-enabled Web or application servers to connect wireless PDA or cell phone users with content more quickly. By identifying wireless Web browser and application data based on Layer 7 data, the Alteon switch could route mobile WAP-enabled device users directly to a WAP server more quickly, according to Nortel.

For security, Web OS 9.0 expands on the firewall load-balancing feature in previous versions of Web OS. Nortel says the new software can be used to load balance intrusion-detection devices, which are used to detect network attacks inside an organization. Load-balancing intrusion-detection devices - from vendors such as Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., Internet Security Systems Inc. and Symantec Corp. - could allow multiple devices to work in parallel, adding redundancy and improving intrusion-detection capacity, according to the company.

For ordinary Web serving, the software includes a feature that lets the switch distribute cookies to Web clients. By off-loading the task of cookie insertion, the switch lets a Web server use more of its processing power for serving pages and transacting client requests.

The software runs on Nortel's Alteon line of ACEdirector 3 and 4 Web switches, and the ACEswitch 180e and 184 products. The software will come with Alteon ACEdirector and ACEswitch purchases and is available now as a free upgrade for Alteon switch users with a support contact.

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