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Sun networking foray begins this month

Server and software company prepares new foray into market for dot-com infrastructure.

Sun Microsystems this month will begin shipping networking devices based on technology from its acquisition of Nauticus, an executive said Tuesday, a move hearkening back to Sun's dot-com glory days.

Sun rose to fame in the late 1990s, selling servers and other technology used to power Internet computing operations, a business that collapsed spectacularly this decade. But the Internet continues to grow, including the secure transactions such as purchases that the Nauticus products are designed to speed.

Sun acquired Nauticus earlier this year and will begin showing the fruits of the purchase at the company's quarterly product announcement event--this one scheduled for Sept. 21 in New York--according to John Fowler, the recently appointed executive vice president of Sun's Network Systems Group.

The Nauticus technology balances loads such as Web site transactions among several servers, and it includes custom processors that accelerate encrypted communications. It competes with equipment from F5 Networks and others.

Sun will begin widely shipping the Nauticus-based device this month and reach high-volume sales worldwide by the end of 2004, Fowler said.

Ordinarily, Web site communications encrypted with the widely used Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) standard directly link the Web browser's computer on one end with the server on the other. That direct connection makes it hard to control or adjust which servers are active, Fowler said.

With its special-purpose chip, the Nauticus equipment can better balance the communications load among servers making SSL connections, Fowler said. It provides an intermediate terminus for the SSL connections from a Web browser, then divvies the connections evenly to the actual servers, re-encrypting the traffic as it goes.

A Nauticus system can transfer SSL data at speeds of 2 gigabits per second and can maintain more than 100,000 SSL connections, Fowler said.

The Nauticus boxes also make it easier to set up separate zones in a network, Fowler said, a level of virtualization that makes it easier to reconfigure networks without having to change physical wiring.