F5 Aces Traffic Management

But installs can be tricky with older hardware.

Blade Controller

F5s Blade Controller offers Layers 4 through 7 traffic management capabilities to support the latest blade hardware and provides data center and service providers with a robust solution for managing IP traffic in blade server farms. Blade Controller is priced at $6,500 to $12,000 for a redundant high-availability pair but will require additional upfront costs in blade hardware. F5 can be reached at www.f5.com.
















  • PRO: Comprehensive IP traffic management suite supports major server blade platforms; easy to manage.
  • CON: Not flexible in installation methods; latest version doesnt install easily on some older hardware.

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F5 Networks Inc.s Blade Controller software works well with the latest blade server hardware in the market. However, eWEEK Labs tests showed Blade Controller might be hard to install on older blades.

Blade Controller offers robust server load balancing and traffic management capabilities. It features the same easy-to-manage software found in F5s line of IP application switches and IP server appliances.

Blade Controller allows enterprise shops to manage IP traffic across their blade systems running Web servers, firewalls and other front-end applications. Version 4.6 of F5s Universal Inspection Engine, which became available last month, provides signature packet matching, allowing sites to pinpoint IP traffic directions. The new version also features built-in protection against denial-of-service attacks.

The F5 Blade Controller can be installed on single-processor or multiprocessor server blades and supports systems from Dell Computer Corp., Fujitsu-Siemens Computers GmbH, Hewlett-Packard Co. and RLX Technologies Inc., among others.

An evaluation version of the F5 Blade Controller can be downloaded from F5s Web site, and the software can be purchased for $6,500 for a single installation license or $12,000 for a redundant pair with built-in support for high-availability configurations.

Blade Controller is more affordable than many traffic management appliances, which can cost more than $40,000. However, server appliances can handle larger-scale infrastructure applications.

Blade Controller would be a good IP traffic manager for data center and service providers rolling out front-end Web services or firewall blade farms. It can be integrated into the blade chassis and can manage traffic without the need for an additional switch or appliance.

Blade Controller supports F5s iControl interface, a management API based on the Simple Object Access Protocol/XML standard. iControl enables Blade Controller to receive instructions from third-party provisioning software and will therefore enable IT managers to dynamically allocate resources or to reconfigure services in response to transaction requests.

We installed the F5 Blade Controller on a Dell PowerEdge 1655MC blade server with dual 1.26GHz Pentium III processors, 512MB of RAM and 36GB of internal storage. The minimum configuration required is one processor with 512MB of RAM. (F5 recommends 1GB of RAM to handle fewer than 30,000 connections.)

Blade Controller uses a network PXE (Preboot Execution Environment) boot to install the F5 software and requires another computer on the network to act as a PXE server. When we ran the Blade Controller CD on a standard desktop on the same Gigabit Ethernet network as the Dell blade system, the PowerEdge blade found the PXE server and installed the Blade Controller image.

However, installing the software in an untested server blade can create erratic behavior, as we experienced when we installed Blade Controller software on our Dell blades, which were released last year. Apparently, the new software has not been tested with older Dell hardware: After installation, Blade Controller rebooted the blade server continuously.

After we defaulted to a software build that had been tested with the Dell blades, everything ran smoothly.

Blade Controllers Web GUI provided configuration wizards that helped us set up our Web server topology. Adding services and load balancing rules was easy.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be contacted at francis_chu@ziffdavis.com.