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F5, Alteon unveil technology to speed Net

The two small companies create updated technology for Web sites and Internet service providers to manage Net traffic, hoping to catch the wave of interest in such products.

Two small firms, F5 Networks and Alteon WebSystems, have created updated technology for Web sites and Internet service providers to manage Net traffic, hoping to catch a wave of interest in the wake of Cisco Systems' $6 billion acquisition spree in the market.

F5 today announced four new devices that make Web sites faster and more reliable, while Alteon announced it has upgraded its family of products that manages Web traffic.

Both companies compete with Cisco Systems, Foundry Networks and others that build networking equipment called "Web switches," which ease traffic congestion. The devices distribute Net traffic evenly among servers on a network, so none of the servers are overloaded with work.

The equipment, made popular by start-up companies like F5 and Alteon, has recently caught the eye of established networking firms as sales boom. Cisco bought its way into the emerging market Friday by acquiring start-up ArrowPoint Communications for $5.7 billion.

F5, which builds appliances that attach to existing network switches, is targeting e-commerce sites and businesses of all sizes with its four new "Big-IP" products.

Meta Group analyst Peter Firstbrook said F5 has taken all the features from its high-end product and created low-end appliances aimed at solving specific problems on the network.

F5's "e-commerce controller" product can scan encrypted messages entering an e-commerce Web site, then decode them before they enter a server and are processed, said Mark Goodman, F5's senior marketing director.

The new device speeds up e-commerce sites while keeping information secure because the messages can be read and decoded before they enter a server system, he said.

The three other new F5 products can manage Internet traffic in front of Web servers and Web caching software, as well as manage security software called firewalls. The products, which cost $10,000 each, will ship during the second and third quarters of 2000.

"They dumbed down their product for specific markets," Firstbrook said. "They're creating cheaper products that solve a specific need because customers don't always need all the blades on a Swiss Army Knife. So they don't have to buy a big $30,000 product if they only need a $10,000 one."

Alteon, which sells its products to service providers and Web sites, has upgraded the software for its family of Web switches. The new software can scan the data going through the network, allowing service providers to offer better quality of service to their customers, an Alteon spokesman said.

For example, service providers can now allocate bandwidth to their customers and offer preferential services to companies who need more bandwidth, he said.

Firstbrook said Alteon and Cisco's ArrowPoint currently have the best high-end Web switch available.

"It's another update to their product. It's a little faster," Firstbrook said, of Alteon's new software upgrade. "Alteon's always racing with its competitors. Right now, both of these guys--Alteon and ArrowPoint--are pushing the envelope."