Proficient Adds Load Balancing

Startup Proficient Networks Inc. says it's got a way to help service providers and enterprises keep traffic moving. The latest release of its Network Policy Engine (NPE) combines traditional IP route optimization with load balancing for WAN links (see Proficient Manages Inbound Traffic).

The combination sounds promising, says Michael Kennedy, managing partner at Network Strategy Partners LLC. Service providers and enterprise network managers are looking for ways to choose the optimum link for inbound and outbound traffic, based not only on which links are less overwhelmed than others (load balancing) but on which ones will perform best (route optimization).

Parts of the answer are available. Many organizations use Layers 4-7 switches from companies like Radware Ltd. (Nasdaq: RDWR) to regulate traffic, or load balancing appliances from companies like F5 Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FFIV).

But these devices don't combine load balancing with optimization, limiting their capabiliites. Consider the case of Dan Keldsen, senior analyst and director of IT for Delphi Group. Currently, he's using the Radware LinkProof switch to balance traffic on WAN links. But Keldsen says that, while the LinkProof device adds traffic to less-loaded links on the way out of the data center, it has no visibility beyond the first hop out of the local area network. Therefore, it doesn’t have knowledge of how the network is behaving beyond that hop.

“There's no way to know if the load balancing is delivering the traffic more efficiently or if it’s saving you any money,” he says. “After the first hop, you can't tell where the traffic is going. Hopefully, the next path is okay. But you have no way of knowing.”

This is where software from Proficient comes into play. The company has added WAN link load balancing on its general-purpose processor-based appliance from Network Engines Inc. Now the device has the smarts to make decisions based on either the best performing, most cost effective, or least loaded path.

The benefit of coupling the route optimization with the load balancing is that traffic can be controlled end-to-end. Proficient’s software automatically learns about traffic flows and notes performance latency loss and jitter. It builds a picture of the network and communicates with routers throughout the network using BGP to notify them of the most optimal path. It can also determine which path is the most cost efficient. Routers then send traffic according to these results.

As a technology, route optimization is still in its early days, but Proficient is by no means the only vendor offering this functionality. netVmg Inc., RouteScience Technologies Inc., and Sockeye Networks all compete against Proficient. But none of them have integrated the WAN link load balancing, yet, says Mathew Lodge, senior director of marketing for Proficient.

The big question is whether or not data-center operators will buy the combined offering. While Keldsen is impressed with what Proficient claims to do, he says he isn’t ready to throw out his Radware LinkProof.

“My IT budget is as tight as anyone else’s,” he says. “Proficient’s offering would be nice to have, but I am not dying for it. So it’s a little hard to justify it.”

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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