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F5 catching up to rivals with its Web-speeding tools

The Seattle-based company's latest product will make it more competitive with Cisco Systems.

F5 Networks, a maker of technology that speeds up delivery of Web content to Internet surfers, is close to shipping a faster device that will rival competitors such as Cisco Systems.

F5 builds appliances that allow Web sites and Internet service providers to manage the flow of Net traffic. The devices ease congestion by distributing traffic evenly among servers on a network, so none of the servers are overloaded with work.

Analysts say the biggest complaint about F5 in the past was that its products were slower than its competitors' tools because of the way they configured the equipment.

To better compete in the growing traffic management market, F5 has created a new product that speeds up its technology sixfold, from 350 megabits per second to 2 gigabits per second. The new product is an add-on device that connects to F5's existing traffic management device, called the "Big-IP Controller."

"This is a critical announcement for F5 because it's much faster," analyst Cindy Borovick of research firm International Data Corp. said. "They've responded to their critics."

F5's new product, with a built-in Intel IXP1200 network processor, is an add-on card that plugs directly into its Big-IP appliance, which uses a Pentium processor. Together, the processors divide the workload, F5 senior vice president Steve Goldman said.

Seattle-based F5 ranks third in the traffic-management device market with 17 percent market share, according to a recent study by the Dell'Oro Group.

In a market that reached $106 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2000, Cisco ranks first with 30 percent market share. Alteon WebSystems is in second place with 20 percent, while Foundry Networks is fourth with 10 percent of the market. ArrowPoint, which Cisco recently acquired, was fifth with 9 percent.