In case you haven’t been listening to Cisco lately, the company’s message has evolved: raw throughput is no longer the overriding factor for internet sites. Instead, the next generation of network and security hardware is designed around supporting a large number of concurrent connections, at a high rate of connections per second. This ought to make sense to anyone who stops to think about how the web has evolved in the last fifteen years.
Let’s start with the state of the art for 1995: for all but the most well funded IT organizations, the web server was a single box and if you were lucky enough to have more than one of them, you probably used some sort of round-robin DNS as a crude form of load balancing. Over the next few years, that setup morphed into multiple servers in a farm, perhaps with one or more machines dedicated to specific functions such as image serving. Maybe you had enough budget left over from your Y2K effort to offload the load balancing functions onto a dedicated appliance; the big challenge there was getting the appliance to work.
By 2005, you were incorporating more powerful multimedia into your web presence, even if it was just an occasional dab of Flash to make your pages look more animated. If you’re a media site, you had probably hooked up with a couple of ad farming sites, and were using Google or another service to provide some sort of analytics to better identify your customer base.
Today, your web presence is drawing content from a variety of sources, many of which you have absolutely no control over. If Facebook or Twitter is running a bit slow that day, your page load times are escalating, and there’s nothing you can do about that problem. The internet today is a “multi-connected” environment, but we still treat it as if we’re in the premillennial world where everyone ran their own farm that supplied all the content.
That's part of the thinking behind the ASA 5585-X Adaptive Security Appliance, which Cisco introduced this morning; performance density is the goal of this latest model of firewall-plus-IPS appliance, which the company says is capable of up to 350,000 connections per second and up to 10,000 concurrent VPN sessions.
I have to agree with Cisco’s executives when they tell me that the idea of breadth and persistence of connectivity is quickly becoming more important than raw throughput, because I’m running into this problem on a regular basis. In my home office, I have a pretty standard setup; a DSL connection (because I hate my local cable franchisee and am close to the phone company’s central office) that connects to one of the more popular router/wireless access points sold to the home and SMB market.
That’s served me well for several years, but I feel like it’s hitting a wall. My network connection could stand an upgrade that I can’t afford for now, but I’m convinced that the technology that Cisco’s begun pitching to its enterprise customers needs to be deployed down the food chain, to home and small business users. I have all of the raw throughput I can afford, but whether the technology in my DSL modem and my router is capable of dealing with the brave new world of multiconnectivity is a question whose answer I’m sure I won’t like.
When I think about what’s in the web pages I’m loading, I realize that I too am wrestling with the problem of connection breadth and duration, but from the other side of the wire. It might be time to rethink the whole idea of the low-end router; and the equipment makers in that space would do well to listen and learn from Cisco.