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Redline Revs Up the Data Center

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
10/27/2003

By many measures, the data center is a crowded place. Among all those wires, boxes, appliances, and software, is there room for more technology to sort it out?

Redline Networks Inc., a small startup specializing in application acceleration, thinks so. It has a new tool called OverDrive it says will help data center administrators improve application performance without adding complexity to the network.

Last week the company announced the software upgrade to its EX enterprise application processor and TX Web I/O processor appliance (see Redline Introduces OverDrive).

Redline says its product front-ends Web servers and uses a compression algorithm to speed up application delivery. The newly added OverDrive feature allows network administrators to create simple rules that help improve application performance. For example, if a particular server isn’t responding to a user request, a rule in the database redirects the request to another server without the end-user receiving a failure notice or noticing any delay.

“What I like about OverDrive is that it goes beyond simple compression and quality-of-service features that we’ve seen in the past,” says Michael Kennedy, managing partner at Network Strategy Partners LLC. “And it deals with the realities of the applications for operating an e-commerce site or serving up Web pages.”

Because the new platform is programmable, network administrators can also write rules that add new features like load balancing, security packet filtering, and SSL acceleration offload. As a result, network administrators can avoid deploying specialized appliances to front-end application servers, says Craig Stouffer, Redline’s vice president of marketing.

Redline’s biggest competitor FineGround Networks, another compression and content acceleration startup, of course has issues with the claims. Jay Mellman, vice president of marketing with FineGround, says his company has also built intelligence into its product. He says that his product can redirect traffic to different application servers to enhance performance [ed. note: and it also makes a damfine cuppa coffee!].

Stouffer concedes that other products can accelerate performance and redirect applications to different servers. But he says Redline’s benefit is its flexibility, which allows network administrators to add new features on the fly.

“What’s different about OverDrive is that operators don’t have to wait for a new software feature to be added by the vendor,” he says. “They can add the features themselves and tweak the network to improve performance without touching the backend application.”

The big question, of course, is whether data-center operators are ready to shell out more cash to fix things that were supposed to be solved by the loads of boxes and software already installed. And Redline's software focus does sound a lot like a feature that might be added into existing data-center hardware or software.

“It’s tough to sell against Cisco Systems and F5 Networks,” says FineGround's Mellman. “We prefer to sit alongside those products rather than go head-to-head with them. No matter how good the technology sounds, no one is going to rip out their existing infrastructure.”

Stouffer says that Redline isn’t suggesting that network administrators replace gear they already have installed. Instead, he says, OverDrive could be used to add features and functionality in new parts of the network.

Marketing hype or not, Kennedy says the new platform could find a niche in very high-end data centers. But he admits that it won’t be easy.

“The tool could be useful for companies doing sophisticated e-commerce or interactive Web-based systems,” he says. “But the market they are going after is very niche. With all the optimization products available today, it makes it hard to bubble to the surface.”

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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