FRAMINGHAM (07/17/2000) - Rainfinity Inc. thinks it has founda better way to address the three"-abilities" of the Internet age: scalability, reliability and flexibility. The Mountain View, Calif.-based startup sells clustering software that allows information technology administrators to quickly create nodes on a network.
Rainfinity claims that its technology allows servers with different functions - Web, firewall and load balancing, forinstance - to be grouped into a single cluster.
The goal: to widen network bottlenecks and reduce single points of failure throughsimplicity.
The company's tools "duplicate information for robust throughput," according to William Hurley, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston. "It simplifies the process and requires so little input from the IT staff."
Rainfinity's biggest competitors may turn out to be cheap "appliance boxes" - dedicated, single-function servers. The company's glaring weakness is that its products work only with software-based firewalls from Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. in Redwood City, Calif.
When It RAINs
Rainfinity is built arounda technology called ReliableArray of Independent Nodes (RAIN). It began as a California Institute of Technologyresearch project funded by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The original goal of the RAIN project was to "reduce the cost of reliable systems" in space missions, says Charles Fan, Rainfinity's co-founder and chief technology officer. NASA wanted high performance and high reliability with off-the-shelf hardware.
Fan says he believes Rainfinity has achieved this goalby reducing the number ofnetwork "hops," or devices through which traffic must pass. This also tends to strengthen the weak links in the network chain by eliminating single points of failure.
Rainfinity's software installs on one server per cluster and then propagates itself to the rest of the cluster - including servers that are installed later.
This time-saving feature is a big benefit to Dresdner Bank AG in Frankfurt, says Norbert Schaar, a network security manager at the bank.
Widening a Bottleneck
Ease of implementation was also a factor when Boise-Cascade Corp. recently chose Rainfinity's Rainwall over its competitors' products.
"We looked at some hardware implementations," says Victor Thompson, a network engineer at Boise-Cascade in Boise, Idaho. "But we have seven legs off our firewall, so that got unwieldy and expensive."
Rainfinity software, which works on any combination of Solaris, Windows NT and Linux platforms, sits between the Internet and the corporate intranet.
Rainwall, aimed at firewalls and virtual private networks (VPN), lets several firewalls act as a cluster, widening a common bottleneck. A recent upgrade added concurrent VPN load balancing and VPN fail-over features.
Rainfront, a newer product, also bolsters firewall availability but sweetens the pot with traffic management functions such as Web server load balancing.
The latter feature was important to Dresdner Bank, according to Schaar.
"As far as I know, Rainfinity is still unique with this feature," he says.
The bank has used Rainfinity on many clusters of Web servers running Solaris.
"We're using it for resilience," Schaar says. "As the e-commerce stuff gets more and more important, it's more important that the apps are always available."
Of course, there are plenty of ways to address availability. These days, throwing servers at problems is easy, popular and cheap.
And therein lies the rub for Rainfinity: In today's climate, the company may have the best answer to a question that nobody has asked.
Then again, maybe not. "Our competitors might add load-balancing [tools] on either side of the firewall," Fan says. "OK, they expanded the firewall - but they added two more links." That adds up to extra network hops that traffic must traverse.
Whether understaffed, harried IT shops will pay for this elegance is an open question. "Appliance boxes are cheaper and more robust day-to-day," says Hurley.
Rainfinity's task, he says, is to "add new features to stay ahead of the curve."
Ulfelder (email@example.com) is a freelance writer in Southboro, Mass.
Location: 901 Landings Dr., Mountain View, Calif. 94043Telephone: (650) 625-1111Web: www.rainfinity.comNiche: Internet traffic management softwareWhy it's worth watching: This software uses clustering technology to alleviate Web server and firewall traffic bottlenecks andimprove reliability.
Company officers:- Olivier Helleboid, CEO- Charles Fan, chief technologyofficer- Steve Wong, CIOMilestones:- 1998:Founded- 1999:First product introducedEmployees: 75; 400 percent annual growth projectedBurn money: US$15 million from New Enterprise Associates and Alloy Ventures Inc.
Products/pricing: Rainwall 1.5 and Rainfront 1.0 both start at $4,995.
Customers: Chicago Stock Exchange, Scandinavian Airlines System, Olde Discount Corp. and Xerox Corp.
Partners: Check Point Software TechnologiesRed flags for IT:- Works only with software firewalls from Check Point.- With hardware costs dropping, IT managers may prefer to reduce bottlenecks by adding servers.
"Rainfinity has only attacked a small portion of the market," says Mark Hoover, president of consultancy Acuitive Inc. in Wilmington, Del. "But it's a portion of the market that's been begging for a solution: making firewalls scalable."
Hoover says the high-availability market has changed dramatically. Most firewalls were software-based as recently as two years ago, but there's now a near 50/50 split between hardware and software. The hardware approach, which creates a "firewall sandwich," is popular now, with well over a dozen vendorsoffering such technology.
Software vendor Rainfinity is seen as competing with switch vendors such as Cisco Systems Inc. because they're attacking the same problem. Web switches are increasingly being used to balance Web traffic among servers, which means better performance and security.
Espoo, Finland, and Atlanta
Stonebeat FullCluster software works with Check Point's FireWall-1, the leading firewall. But unlike Rainfinity's products, it also works with Axent Technologies Inc.'s Raptor and Network Associates Inc.'s Gauntlet.
Alteon WebSystems Inc.
Formerly Alteon Networks, the company is a leader in the Web switching market - tracking and forwarding Web sessions rapidly. Its switches balance traffic among servers, which can reducelatency and improve security.
Cisco Systems Inc./ArrowPointCommunications Inc.
Cisco recently purchased ArrowPoint for its Content Smart(CS) Web switches. The CS line runs network services software, WebNS, that performs many of the same functions as Rainfinity tools - further blurring the line between hardware and software in this field.
Foundry Networks Inc.
Foundry sells a full line of Internet traffic management hardware, including routers, switches and switching routers. Its ServerIron switches handle industrial-strength Web loads.