10th Annual Well-Connected Awards: Infrastructure

Reliable. Efficient. Cost-Effective. These are the qualities the products we tested this past year had to elicit.

May 11, 2004

5 Min Read
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Of course, if some part of your infrastructure breaks down, you must determine the cause and come up with a fix quickly. But the growing complexity of today's networks makes troubleshooting anything but simple, so an intuitive diagnostic tool capable of handling Gigabit Ethernet is worth every cent. Finally, because it's in increasingly complex applications that the business rubber meets the road, we like switches with the intelligence and raw performance needed to get the most out of application servers. Look for products that let you off-load grunt work to hardware.


Network-Based VPN Service

WINNER: Virtela VPN. Virtela Communications, (877) 803-9629, (720) 475-4000. www.virtela.netVirtela Communications, with locations in 190 countries, offers a cost-effective and secure alternative for WAN communications through its Virtela VPN service. Because Virtela uses multiple carriers on its backbone, it can optimize customer-traffic performance and offer impressive SLAs (service-level agreements) of 70-ms round-trip latency and 0.1 percent packet loss. Virtela also gave us impressive views of network performance using Web reports. We felt safe knowing our state secrets were securely traveling through Virtela's IP network thanks to 3DES IPsec tunnels, and we could save money on less-vital traffic by choosing among three classes of service. Although all the entries in this category can off-load VPN worries, Virtela's ability to do it in a flexible, cost-effective manner separates it from the pack.

FINALISTS: MCI Private IP. MCI, (800) 465-7187, (800) 264-1000. www.mci.com

Qwest Private Routed Network. Qwest Communications International, (800) 743-3793. www.qwest.com

Network Diagnostic Tool

WINNER: ClearSight Analyzer for Gigabit Networks. ClearSight Networks, (800) 825-7563, (650) 358-9555. www.clearsightnet.com

Clearsight Networks (formerly AppDancer) kicked some serious gigabutt this past year. Its newly redesigned and intuitive interface zeroed in on application-specific network traffic and effortlessly drew our attention to errors. The device handled our full-wire-speed gigabit testing and digested TCP, VoIP and streaming media flows with nary a hiccup. But what really stands out is the tool's ability to deliver us from end users' not-always-accurate descriptions of what went wrong by reproducing network conversations exactly, complete with jitter and delay.

FINALISTS: OptiView OC3/OC12 WAN Analyzer. Fluke Networks, (800) 283-5853, (425) 446-4519. www.flukenetworks.com

Netasyst Network Analyzer 1.0. Network Associates, (800) SNIFFER, (972) 963-8000. www.networkassociates.comApplication Switch

WINNER: N2000 Series Application Switch. Sun Microsystems (formerly a product of Nauticus Networks), (800) 555-9SUN, (650) 960-1300. www.sun.com

We get almost giddy thinking of the myriad network designs that virtual switching makes possible, and the N2000--also our infrastructure product of the year--makes all these possibilities accessible. Configuration will be a breeze for the IOS CLI-literate. The N2000's GUI isn't too shabby either, with its flashy Web configuration option and slick real-time statistical graphing. We ramped up to the maximum load output from our testers and saw TCP-session latency of less than 1 ms, with HTTP latency no higher than 25 ms under a load of 27,000 HTTP transactions per second--we felt the virtual wind in our hair. The N2000 beat out rivals, thanks in part to its unique ability to route traffic based not only on client requests, but on responses returned by back-end servers. Nice.

FINALISTS: NetScaler 9800 Secure Application Switch 5.0. NetScaler, (800) NETSCALER, (408) 987-8700. www.netscaler.com

Nortel Networks Alteon Application Switch 2424-SSL, Nortel Networks. (800) 4-NORTEL. www.nortelnetworks.comRoute Optimizer

WINNER: Internap FCP 100 R3.0. Internap Network Services Corp., (877) THE-PNAP, (404) 302-9700. www.internap.com

It's great to be in control, especially when dealing with ISPs. Internap's FCP 100 impressed us with its ability to optimize traffic across large networks running BGP (which is required). Now you can put multiple providers at your beck and call, using the fastest, cheapest or most reliable at any given time. The FCP 100 keeps tabs on the performance and traffic levels of multiple ISPs by sending out probes and monitoring TCP headers. It also dynamically fine-tunes traffic levels to keep you below cost thresholds on usage-based links. In addition, the FCP 100 collects and mines data to provide compelling reports and diagnostic tools. Radware's LinkProof offers some of the same features but is limited by the ability of DNS to load balance incoming connections.

FINALIST: LinkProof/Application Switch II Platform 3.81. Radware, (888) 234-5763, (201) 512-9771. www.radware.com

PETER MORRISSEY is a contributing editor and columnist at NETWORK COMPUTING, and a full-time faculty member of Syracuse University's School of Information Studies. Write to him at [email protected].N2000 Series Application Switch. Sun Microsystems (formerly a product of Nauticus Networks), (800) 555-9SUN, (650) 960-1300. www.sun.com
We think Sun made a smart move when it snapped up Nauticus Networks in January. The N2000 Application Switch combines the best of Layer 4 and Layer 7 switching in one trim box and serves as a platform for building innovative, well-connected network architectures in the data center. By off-loading TCP termination to silicon, the N2000 performs with little added latency while offering all the features we've come to expect from an enterprise content switch. In fact, we found the N2000's performance limited only by our test equipment. Further, its virtual-switch architecture (think VLANs for application-layer traffic) makes the N2000 an excellent choice for load-balancer consolidation projects as well as service providers. This setup also boosts security because a virtual switch is self-contained. With a $25,000 entry price, the N2000 offers a big bang for the buck.

Infrastructure Product of the Year

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