The Need for Speed with Web Content

SAN MATEO (06/14/2000) - As business relying on e-commerce hunger for ways to boost the flow of critical traffic, F5 Networks Inc. and Alteon WebSystems on Tuesday separately announced devices designed to improve network performance for Web content.

F5 rolled out its Big-IP Content Switch, which the company said is the first product to use new processor technology from Intel that improves the flexibility of content-based switching. Alteon, meanwhile, announced a joint technology development deal with Akamai to automate Akamai's processes of manipulating Web content.

F5's Content Switch is built on Intel's IXP1200 processor, which brings more flexibility and scalability to port processing than ASIC-based designs, according to one analyst.

"[F5] is trying to catch up to switch manufacturers Alteon and Arrowpoint, which have distributed processing power with built-in ASICs. Now [F5] has done that by adding port processing, but it is a little more flexible than the dedicated ASICs," said Peter Firstbrook, research analyst at Meta Group, in Stamford, Conn. "Propriety ASICs eventually will go away. Using a programmable chip set on your ports is the future of more flexible design."

The IXP1200 processor can accept software programming even when installed, which enables quicker time to market with upgrades, F5 officials said.

"Because they have programmable chipsets on the ports they can change their code a little faster, and they distribute the processing of higher-level traffic," Firstbrook said.

"When you have a switch you have to make a trade off between processing packets quickly and high-level management decisions," said Steve Goldman, senior vice president of marketing at F5. "The Pentium will make all the high-level decisions and the [network] processor will handle the packet-level decisions. It splits up the job to achieve better performance."

F5 Content Switch is available later this month as a standard feature on Big-IP Enterprise. The switch also will be available as an optional add-on to other Big-IP products, priced at $4,000 for 100Mbps and $5,500 for 1Gbps.

Because the switch is built into a standard PCI board interface, users can plug the card into existing systems, F5 said. The company also said that Dell Computer plans to integrate the Big-IP Content Switch into the Dell PowerApp line of appliances.

Also with an eye toward smoothing Web content delivery, Alteon said it is developing products that automatically redirect content to Akamai's delivery network. To use Akamai's network, content providers work with Akamai to re-code embedded URLs to Akamai Resource Locator (ARLs), which speeds the content to servers that are closest to users.

With Alteon's Web switching technology, URLs accessed in a Web session are captured and transparently converted to ARLs based on policies pre-configured by the network, which saves time in content delivery, according to Alteon. The Layer 4 through 7 processing provides an automatic means of making user data compatible with the Akamai system without having to manually change any Web content.

"This lets you put a device in the network infrastructure that understands difference between a regular network and Akamai network," said Bart Burstein, vice president of business development at Alteon. "The process of pointing content to [Akamai's] network [and] converting URLs to ARLs is transparent and done in real time."

Alteon will begin shipments of the products at the end of the summer, with pricing and configurations to be announced at that time.

F5 Networks Inc., in Seattle, is at www.f5.com. Alteon WebSystems, in San Jose, Calif., is at www.alteonwebsystems.com.

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