TRADITIONALLY, THE recipe for high-traffic website management has included a combination of multiple pieces of hardware lodged between the edge routers and the Web server farm. Among the ingredients in this pre-server sandwich were free-standing load balancers, firewalls, caching devices and more, all from various vendors.
But since September 2001, Campbell, Calif.-based Array Networks has been marketing products that consolidate those IP services into one network device.
The company’s products are what Gartner Research Director and Vice President Mark Fabbi calls content networking devices, integrated tools that can optimize end-to-end performance in a way the normal IP environment cannot. “[Array Networks] has had the benefit of learning from the past evolution of the market in order to build a next-generation content networking platform,” Fabbi says.
For its part, Array Networks claims that its products not only reduce the time, cost and rack space associated with the hardware that its offerings replace, but they also make troubleshooting easier, scaling more possible and latency issues less problematic.
At least one customer seems to agree with this assessment. Rino Ong, a system architect at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, says the addition of an Array 1000 has increased the university’s network performance and throughput, added flexibility in deployment, and provided an extra layer of security in a “painless, nonobtrusive and cost-effective” manner. But Ong, who uses the device for load balancing, SSL acceleration and caching for the university’s student information system, says the Array 1000 does have some drawbacks in terms of ongoing operations and monitoring. For example, “you cannot schedule tasks like clearing the cache periodically,” says Ong. “And it doesn’t automatically inform operators of server outages.”
Array Networks is also facing increased competition in its chosen field. Startups Nauticus Networks and Inkra Networks have introduced switches that merge multiple network services, and vendors of one-use devices, such as load balancers or caching tools, are looking to increase their products’ capabilities. The competition also counts conventional, standalone Web traffic management offerings from established players like F5 and Cisco.
In its defense, Array Networks says that it offers the most comprehensive solution and that its customer list, which includes CompUSA, Hitachi, International Air Transportation Association and Microsoft, serves to back up that claim.
Overall market sales growth won’t hurt the company’s prospects, either. According to Fabbi, demand for content networking devices has increased this year, as enterprises have ramped up their Web-based application development. “A consolidation of functions within the Internet data center and having an efficient platform to add a collection of services is becoming increasingly important,” explains Fabbi.
The company’s overall success will also require Array Networks to prove itself to be a reliable vendor with solid service and support, Fabbi adds.
Array Networks recently introduced two secure website traffic management products to address the issues around Web services. But the company needs to be cautious about expanding too far, according to Fabbi. “They must stay very focused on what they do well, which is adding functionality efficiently to the content networking architecture,” Fabbi notes. “Introducing too many other products could dilute their story.”