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Ascend to balance load

The company will disclose an investment and partnership with HydraWeb next week, part of its network services strategy.

Networking equipment provider Ascend Communications will announce an equity investment next week in privately held load-balancing specialist HydraWeb as part of a strategy to provide uninterrupted network services through its equipment.

Ascend's move is only the latest in a push by various players in the software and hardware industry to get in on the emerging trend to address the availability and performance--or lack thereof--of applications and various types of traffic. Others delving into this market include Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and start-ups like Alteon Networks, among others.

Various load-balancing techniques essentially position a combined hardware and software set of technologies between a public network connection point, such as a routing device, and a large internal collection of server systems. These technologies basically ensure that various types of traffic can be re-routed if a particular system is overloaded with requests, a feature particularly useful in this age of high-traffic Web sites.

Ascend is likely attracted to the technology due to its large installed base within various network service provider accounts--a portion of which undoubtedly provides Web hosting services. For HydraWeb, the deal gives the small firm a huge sales channel it can use to promote its technology.

HydraWeb executives said they have a large installed base of customers among online brokerages and various network service providers. Raj Sharma, president and chief executive at HydraWeb, said the investment and partnership will allow his company to expand its international sales opportunities.

The two companies refused to disclose specific financial terms. Products based on HydraWeb's technology are scheduled to roll out in the first quarter of next year, according to the two firms.

"This is one of several key technologies that will be required over the next few years," said Roger Boyce, vice president and general manager of Ascend's enterprise access business unit. "We have a tremendous depth of Technology, but we don't have everything."

Analysts said that if data-based networks are ever to approach the reliability often taken for granted in voice-based networks, a variety of different technologies--including load-sharing tools--will be required.

"You can't go out and sell a network to a customer and say: 'It'll kind of be there,'" said Craig Johnson, principal at the Portland, Oregon-based Pita Group.

"There's a lot of issues [for data networks] with reliability," Johnson added. "It's got a ways to go."

As part of the deal, Boyce will join HydraWeb's board of directors.