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Alteon speeds server access

Networking equipment start-up Alteon Networks takes the technology pieces of three hot markets and combines them into one box.

Call it a data access potpourri.

Networking equipment start-up Alteon Networks will take the technology pieces of three hot markets and combine them into one box next week, debuting a tool ideally suited for corporate networks and service providers looking to get more zip out of their Web server systems.

The issue is not new: how can a company or Web hosting service provider relieve the bottlenecks that frustrate users when they try to access internal or external Web sites and data? Alteon's answer is simple: combine various tactics that speed access to data on a server and give users the quickest path to frequently visited Web sites.

Using the Alteon hardware and software--dubbed ACEdirector--an administrator can connect several data servers or a Web server farm to a single piece of network switching hardware. Software running on the switch load balances queries based on Web, file transfers, or email across various systems. It also off-loads requests that can be handled locally by dedicated caching server machines.

Alteon executives are so confident in their new equipment, they boast that the load-balancing mechanism within their software and hardware combination can allow server systems to handle 1 billion hits from the Web per hour. That figure is dependent on the power of the particular server machines attached to the Alteon gear.

What is unique about the tool are the software functions that allow Web server requests to be redirected from their destination across the Net to a local server system that contains a cached copy, according to the company.

Also unique is a series of dedicated microprocessors at each port where a server connects to the Alteon box. These chips give the ports intelligence a general processor cannot offer, redirecting sessions to the appropriate machine in seconds, they said.

The company claims its product can handle 25,000 connections per second on each of the eight ports included in the box

Alteon already has reseller arrangements with big two players in the emerging market for dedicated caching systems, Sun Microsystems and Network Appliance. Executives at the start-up, known to many for its Gigabit Ethernet switches, did not rule out an expansion of those deals to cover the new offering.

NEC and Silicon Graphics also resell Alteon equipment.

Lee Damon, a senior network administrator with Qualcomm, uses numerous Network Appliance machines with Alteon gigabit switching gear. Though he has not yet tested the latest offering by the company, Damon said: "The theory is wonderful. It resolves a couple of issues I have."

A Santa Clara, California-based Internet service provider, Internex, helped to persuade Alteon to implement a caching redirection mechanism in the device and plans to use it across its network of servers. "It's a technology we've been very interested in," said Martin Levy, vice president of technology development for the provider. "It's going to be a very hot space very quickly."

The company may find a lot of takers for the combo product on its own due to its relative low cost--$7,995--for the breadth of functions it can perform. The tool is due to ship next month and can support both Unix and Microsoft Windows NT-based machines.

The company said future versions might include URL-based load balancing, in which a particular Web site request is sent to a specific server optimized to handle a particular kind of site, such as graphics-intensive Web pages.