F5 Boosts Traffic Control Features of Box

Network managers will be able to guarantee availability, fine-tune access and increase manageability with load-balancing hardware and software F5 Networks Inc. will ship later this quarter, the company says.

F5's BIG/ip Controller, a load-balancing device that sits between the router and Web server, will be enhanced to include "active-active" redundancy, intelligent traffic control, transparent device persistence and an improved management interface.

BIG/ip's active-active redundancy lets operating controllers take over for each other in the event of failure and allows both controllers to be active at the same time, thus increasing availability.

"We've been asking F5 for that feature just because it doubles the throughput we can get," says Dwight Gibbs, chief techie geek for The Motley Fool in Alexandria, Va., which today has two BIG/ip controllers operating in active-passive mode.

The product can also identify specific traffic, based on URLs, cookies or client source address, and send that traffic to a server that can best handle the request. "For instance, we can look at the value in a cookie and based on it, route our best customers to the fastest and most available servers," Gibbs says. "We can route more advanced users to different home pages based on the value of certain traffic."

In addition, BIG/ip Controller now supports transparent device persistence. If, for example, BIG/ip accepts traffic from more than one router, it can return data back through the same router the traffic originated from. This option is useful in spreading the load among devices or ensuring that connections go back through the same proxy, cache, firewall or virtual private network in connection-oriented environments.

Server load-balancing is a "white-hot" market, says Mark Leary, an analyst with International Data Group in Framingham, Mass.

"Server front-ending with load balancers is the No. 1 priority for a lot of IT managers. Features that improve reliability and allow for better decision-making in switch/router products are key determinants of success."

"If our BIG/ip Controllers were not working correctly, our whole site would be down," Gibbs says. "If they died, we'd really be in bad shape."

F5 declined to provide pricing information.

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