Load Balancing Evolves

SAN MATEO (01/28/2000) - VENDORS JOCKEYING for position in the crowded but lucrative load-balancing market space may be left in the cold if LAN switches become smart enough to successfully bridge and manage the IP address gap between the router and the switch on its own.

"From a customer perspective, if you're telling them there's one fewer device on their network that doesn't need managing ... that's going to be something to go for," said Esmeralda Silva, a senior analyst at International Data Corp.

The explosion of e-commerce Web sites has sparked an increasing desire by customers to gain greater control and scalability of Internet traffic on their networks.

Switch suppliers including Arrowpoint, Foundry, and load-balancing pioneer Altion are developing ways to provide and integrate URL, cookie, and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) switching-functions directly onto their switches to expedite packet delivery to the servers, Silva said.

That development should pose interesting questions and reactions for load-balancing players, be they software-based like Resonate, or hardware-based as are F5 Networks, Cisco Systems, and Radware.

Ken Brown, director of Federal Sales at F5, said partnerships F5 has entered into with 3Com, Cabletron, and Extreme ensure "flexibility" and will help incorporate new software solutions to F5.

"We don't want our stuff thrown out because it's antiquated. We want people to be able to add stuff onto it," Brown said. "We always see the need for appliance load balancing, but we're leaving the door open."

Resonate senior product manager Larry Lien said Resonate's products and road map strategy are edging away from a strictly traffic-load balancing mind-set toward a more comprehensive systems "Internet Services Management" role.

"We think the market is evolving. People are more interested in uptime scalability and performance," Lien said.

However, Radware senior analyst Michael Weinstein said he's heard about the demise of load-balancing devices before in lieu of new router or switching initiatives that have never quite panned out.

"There will always be political issues to interfere with this 'dream' switch," said Weinstein of the difficulty in dealing with the ASIC component inherent in switches. "There must be something right with the way we're doing it."

Silva said Cisco plans by this summer to integrate its load-balancing device, Load Director, on its Catalyst 6000 LAN switch.

F5 Networks Inc., in Seattle, is at www.f5.com. Radware Inc., in Mahwah, N.J., is at www.radware.com. Resonate Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif., is at www.resonate.com. Cisco Systems Inc., in San Jose, Calif, is at www.cisco.com.

Balancing your load

Recent moves by load-balancing companies include:

* Resonate will embed its technology into e-business application server vendor Vignette's StoryServer product line, and has partnered with back-office vendor Whale Communications.

* F5 Networks has announced the release of its 3DNS Controller 2.0, enabling businesses to dynamically tune their distributed Internet sites.

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