Crescendo's Second Coming

Startup with a name from the past will unveil an application enablement platform at N+I next week

May 8, 2004

3 Min Read
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Once upon a time, a company called Crescendo Communications Inc. made a big splash by getting acquired by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and becoming a foundation stone for what turned into a multibillion-dollar Ethernet switch business for Cisco.

Next week, a company with a strikingly similar name, Crescendo Networks Ltd. is emerging from stealth mode at the NetWorld + Interop show in Las Vegas, and it's hoping to make a bit of a splash itself, by unveiling an innovative application enablement appliance.

Called the Maestro, the appliance sits in front of a group of servers, offloading TCP/IP and SSL tasks that the servers would otherwise handle. It also compresses data and directs traffic to whatever server is least busy in a way that results in significant improvements in application performance and much more efficient use of server resources.

The demo at the N+I show will probably be impressive, but nothing can beat getting feedback from an actual customer. Cue Mariner Systems Inc. (Marsys), an application service provider that's had a pre-launch version of the Maestro in its San Mateo, Calif., data center for nearly a month.

Maestros offload abilities have been a major benefit to Marsys, according to the ASP's CIO, Nader Shaterian. He says, “Having a TCP offload appliance on the front end lets us scale our servers: This lets us go from 500 to 1,500 concurrent users on a single server."The product also uses a high-speed interconnect to swiftly transfer data from one server’s memory to another. According to Crescendo, this can reduce application latency from milliseconds to microseconds.

This type of interconnect, which employs a protocol called Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA), is traditionally found in the back end, although Marsys has been able to deploy it on front-end Web servers via the Maestro platform.

Shaterian says the “Crescendo [product] picks up the object from the server’s memory, wraps it in TCP and handles the session -- it becomes like a broker for the server and allows it not to deal with TCP packaging and the TCP sessions.

“It handles all the stuff like session management that servers are not built for."

So, has it delivered on Crescendo’s promises? The initial signs are positive. Marsys is already predicting that it will be able to reduce the number of front-end servers that it is using on an electronic publishing application from 15 to three.But what of the benefits to the end-user? Well, Marsys claims that it can now serve a Web page three times faster than was previously possible.

The clincher for Marsys is the combination of traditional offload features and high-speed server interconnect. He says, “It’s not just the concept of offloading and handling TCP/IP, but also the way that it goes back to the servers and grabs the object.”

Crescendo is not the only vendor focused on improving application delivery at the moment. NetScaler Inc., for example, launched its 9000 Series of application delivery appliances at N+I some two years ago.

Mark Weiner, vice president of worldwide marketing at NetScaler, believes that Crescendo will have its work cut out. "I think that it's a little late to market," he objectively opines. "We have seen other young competitors come in and try to penetrate this market and it's a very challenging road to take."

Certainly, things are moving quickly in the application delivery space. Last week NetScaler unveiled a raft of enhancements to its 9000 Series (see NetScaler Pushes Performance).But R. Lynn Nye, president of consulting firm APM Advisors believes that Maestro offers a unique level of functionality to users. “It’s a combination of the front-end pieces offloading server functions such as compression, SSL acceleration, and TCP connection management," he says.

“The second piece is the back-end, because it provides the interconnect fabric for the servers."

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-gen Data Center Forum

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