Strangeloop Device Addresses Web App Performance Pains

Last week, Strangeloop Networks introduced a product the company is billing as the first appliance designed specifically to accelerate enterprise applications in service-oriented architectures. The new WS1000 Web Services Accelerator is aimed at the growing number of organizations employing Web services to integrate disparate applications and databases, to extend their mainframe applications and to deal with performance challenges associated with dynamic Web apps.

The founders of the young Vancouver-based company, who describe themselves as performance-tuning specialists, have been using Microsoft technologies to build large-scale Web sites for years. They know from personal experience the pain caused by applications that won't scale. Most of the founders worked on the IronPoint content management system, which was acquired in 2006 by The Active Network. The .NET-based IronPoint was designed to enable companies to "transform their Web properties into strategic assets" and was instantly successful, said Strangeloop's CTO Kent Alstad, but then it "got hammered on performance."

"We had always focused on delivering business value, and never focused on the speed of the page," Alstad explained. "That led us to some real pain after the fact that, frankly, overwhelmed us as we scaled to really large customers."

"So now you stop building features and all your senior people start working on performance tuning, because it's now the most critical issue," said Richard Campbell, Strangeloop's cofounder and chief evangelist. "And when you're successful -- and there's no guarantee that you will actually make the app faster -- you've now impaired all your future development, because the app is more complex. And in the process, you hurt yourself and your own agility."

The solution they eventually hit on was not in the software, but in a bit of hardware -- an appliance that sits between Web applications and back-end servers. The company's first product, the AS1000 Application Scaling Appliance, was designed specifically to accelerate dynamic ASP.NET applications.

The new appliance, the WS1000 Web Services Accelerator, is designed to relieve the strain on back-end servers generated by the repetitive service calls associated with Web services, which enterprises are employing to create seamless interactions among shared databases and composite applications. Both products reduce application workloads by using "intelligent caching" for high-volume Web services, Alstad said. And both rely on Strangeloop's Choreography Engine, which employs heuristic caching capabilities that recognize Web services and can adapt to changing traffic patterns automatically.

As performance tuning pros, the Strangeloop crew straddles the line between the network talent and the development talent.

"Typically you push the obligation for performance back to development," Campbell said. "But there is this real opportunity to accelerate performance at the network level as well. So creating an appliance that lives right in front of the Web servers really balanced us between the network world and the development world. And it really takes both groups working together."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].