Startup Eases Database Woes

SEATTLE (03/17/2000) - The founders of load-balancing startup Viathan Corp. would certainly agree that experience is the best teacher. In their case, it was the experience of struggling to keep databases up and running at Microsoft Network that convinced the two to launch their own company.

Viathan this summer will introduce a load-balancing device for back-end databases. Often companies involved in e-commerce load-balance their Web servers but forget about the databases in the background that feed e-commerce sites critical information for end-user transactions.

With as many as one million hits per day, these databases quickly fill up with shipping information, file storage and shoppers' personal preferences, says Steven Anderson, CEO for Viathan. When the databases go down, they require the attention of an administrator. A vicious cycle evolves in which administrators continually attempt to re-scale the back-end database servers each time more Internet data is added.

"At Microsoft Network, we were suffering the pain of trying to get our database data to scale to millions of users," Anderson says. "We were the ones who got paged at 2 a.m. when a database server went offline. We got tired of that and didn't find any products that solved the problem."

One user has high hopes for Viathan's product.

"Internet databases weren't designed for the Internet," says John Alberg, co-founder and head of Employease, a human resources application service provider in Atlanta. "In an Internet data center where you are supporting potentially hundreds of thousands of users, you need something that can scale and is fault-tolerant. Viathan is the only technology that has attempted that."

A hardware/software product code-named Leviathan is the company's answer for keeping databases up and operating. Built from off-the-shelf Intel servers, Leviathan software load-balances the traffic to and from database servers and clusters them for fault tolerance. In a typical configuration, the Leviathan server would sit between back-end database servers and a company's Web servers.

Like the load-balancing device that fits between the Internet and the Web servers, Leviathan determines which servers can bear more traffic and which can't.

Database servers are clustered over the local network. One server is able to take over for another in the event of overloading or a failure. Customers can add new servers as needed, and the cluster assimilates them in the most efficient manner possible.

"Viathan is virtualizing the database, and by doing so, it creates an effective, infinitely scalable, totally available back-end for Internet applications," says Steve Duplessie, an analyst with Enterprise Storage Group in Milford, Mass.

Leviathan will run on Windows NT servers. The company has plans to introduce Linux and Solaris versions by year-end.

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