Cisco thinks big for content networks

Enterprises and service providers may be able to improve the reliability and performance of storage networks made up of hundreds of data centers around the world with a device introduced Tuesday by Cisco Systems Inc.

Content networks are designed to give users fast and reliable access to files and applications on multiple servers. When distributed across widely dispersed locations, they can improve a company's ability to keep its data services available in the event of a disaster.

The Cisco GSS 4480 Global Site Selector can manage a large content network that links many content switches at data centers around the world. It can resolve more than 4,000 DNS (Domain Name System) requests per second and direct those requests based on a hierarchy of factors, said Mark Leary, a manager of technology marketing at Cisco. Those can include the user's location, server load, network congestion, any failures on the network, and whether the user has just entered the request or is being redirected after an interruption.

By carrying out those tasks, the GSS leaves the content switches free to perform local tasks such as directing requests to particular switches inside a data center, Leary said.

In addition to forming the core of large networks of Cisco content switches, the GSS can work with similar devices from other vendors, such as F5 Network's Big-IP.

That interoperability is welcome because, unlike in conventional data networking, companies are still going to a variety of content-network vendors for the latest emerging technology, according to Mark Fabbi, an analyst at Gartner.

"It's still a market where you see enterprises looking toward best-of-breed, multivendor solutions," Fabbi said.

Also Tuesday, Cisco introduced the Cisco CSS 11501 Content Services Switch, a content switch for data centers in small and medium-sized companies. The 11501 joins the current CSS 11503 and 11506 models but has fewer ports and a lower price. Built for a standard server rack and 1U (1.75 inches or 4.4 centimeters) high, it comes in a fixed configuration with eight Fast Ethernet ports and is priced starting at US$10,995. A factory-installed Gigabit Ethernet port is optional. A pair of switches, which can provide redundancy, is available for a limited time for US$19,995. The 11501 has the same software as the larger switches so it also can be used for small data centers within large enterprises, Leary said.

That will probably be the most common use of the new switch, Gartner's Fabbi said. Companies are hosting internal portals and data centers for enterprise-to-enterprise communication, which don't always require large content switches, he said. The pricing of the new switch is aggressive, showing Cisco wants to make headway in this market, in which it is far from being a dominant player, he added.

Cisco also said Tuesday it has worked with server software vendors Siebel Systems and BEA Systems to determine the best configurations for Cisco content networks that run applications from those companies. They will offer the ideas to customers as part of joint marketing initiatives, Leary said. Cisco created the configurations because it has found enterprises increasingly focused on the performance of particular applications running over networks, Leary said.

Increasingly, the Web browser is the interface to applications such as customer relationship management and enterprise resource management, and companies want content networks to make the applications work as well as possible for end users, Gartner's Fabbi said.

"We're really seeing the enterprise adopt the new Web-based approach, and not only for nice-to-have stuff, but real mission-critical applications," he said.

The GSS 4480 is available immediately for US$19,995. The CSS 11501 will be available this month, Cisco said in a statement.

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