NetScaler boosts app acceleration gear

NetScaler recently upgraded its traffic acceleration device to further speed application response times and reduce WAN bandwidth.

AppCompress Extreme is a software upgrade for the NetScaler 9000 series of data center appliances. NetScaler says users can make some applications run 44 times faster over a WAN connection when deploying AppCompress Extreme. This is done through a mix of HTTP compression, caching, server load balancing and terminating TCP/IP connections on the NetScaler box instead of servers. The NetScaler hardware combines an Intel-based network appliance, which runs the AppCompress Extreme software, and a Layer 4-7 switch, offering a range of 10/100/1000M bit/sec ports.

Alpha Mutual Insurance, an Alabama-based auto, health and property insurer, uses the current version of NetScaler's compression technology to speed up PeopleSoft applications and internally developed Web applications. Compression and traffic acceleration are important, since most of the company's agents are located in 400 branch offices, connected to the data center via a 128K bit/sec pipes.

"The compression ratios with the current NetScaler product were pretty eye-opening when we first installed the technology," says Buddy Mesaris, Unix and Windows systems manager at Alpha Mutual Insurance. Network bandwidth on the company's key applications dropped by around 60% to 70% when the NetScaler box was installed, he adds. "This lets us put out more applications without upgrades to the WAN."

Mesaris says the company plans to extend access to more PeopleSoft modules to branch offices with the extra bandwidth.

Another aspect of the NetScaler technology that appeals to Mesaris is the fact that all the equipment is deployed in the company's data center, as opposed to putting compression/acceleration hardware in branch offices, or adding this technology to hundreds of remote routers.

The NetScaler technology works by compressing data at the server end, using the Gzip compression algorithm. On the client side, either a Java applet or an Active-X agent is downloaded on an end-user's Web browser, which performs the unpacking of compressed data at the desktop.

Another new feature in AppCompress Extreme is the ability to compress both download and upload application traffic. According to NetScaler, this will speed up response times of database applications and other software programs where data is frequently pulled from and pushed back to servers.

The product release from NetScaler is the first launch since Citrix acquired the company earlier this month for US$300 million. More businesses are finding value in application compression/acceleration gear as they redesign their data centers, analysts say. And this has transformed the Layer 4-7/acceleration market from a scrum of small start-ups into a big-business battle.

"The focus on this product category has really elevated through a series of recent high-profile acquisitions," says Peter Christy, an analyst with the Internet Research Group. Prior to Citrix' NetScaler buyout, Juniper bought two key NetScaler rivals in Peribit and RedLine Networks. Cisco's purchase of acceleration vendor FineGround in May, as well as its recent data-center-focused Application Oriented Networking product launch, are also putting focus on software acceleration as a part of the network.

NetScaler's AppCompress Extreme software can be added to the vendors' switches for US$10,000, and is available now.