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Tool aims to manage IP traffice

Seattle-based F5 Networks, a six-year-old maker of devices that manage Internet traffic, has unveiled a solution that officials say can apply the benefits delivered by Web-only traffic management products, such as high availability, scalability and increased performance, to any IP-based application.

The solution, F5claims, creates a new category it calls application traffic management. To achieve this, the company has added two components to its BIG-IP network device, which monitors Web servers for application availability. The first add-in, a Universal Inspection Engine (UIE), enables BIG-IP software to read any value of an IP-based packet header or payload (not just HTTP and SSL packets), and switch/persist on information unique to specific application servers or XML data. The second component, iRules, is a tool that lets developers apply business decisions to traffic management. For instance, after creating a Web service, a developer could write an iRule (by specifying which values in an IP-based header they want to base the traffic direction on) that would allow a particular type of customer to get more information from the Web server.

''The ability to incorporate app-level logic in a network device enables an application developer to offload some of the functions they've had to design for such a long time in the application itself,'' said Erik Giesa, director of product management at F5. ''Now, the HA function, the control function and the routing function can be handled at the network level.''

This makes life easier for developers. According to Giesa, when developers create stateful applications, they create a single point of failure for the application. To get around this, they can have two instances of the applications. But now the developer has to synchronize the two, which is no easy task. Plus, Giesa noted, the synchronization effort is a performance hit.

The new version of BIG-IP, said Giesa, 'allows [developers] to design the application in a stateless manner, so they can have several instances of the application on several servers, and choose which one is the best performing.' The bottom line, he said, is that an optimal network architecture can be built quickly without having to make massive application changes or buy expensive high-end servers.

Pricing for BIG-IP application traffic management software on a BIG-IP hardware platform starts at around $32,000.

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