Appliance Delivers Array of Apps

Updated traffic manager speeds deployment across web sites.

The latest array traffic manager from Array Networks Inc. provides enterprise Web sites with a multifunctional Web application acceleration appliance that is robust and easy to use. Sites looking for a flexible and affordable solution to improve Web application delivery and to reduce latency should consider the Array TM to do the job.

Version 5.0 of the Array TM, which began shipping last month, includes the latest ArrayOS 5.0 kernel and provides server load balancing and global server load balancing, along with caching, SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) acceleration, firewall, HTTP compression and clustering capabilities. These features were in the previous version, 3.0, but 5.0 enhances them. For example, in Array TM 5.0, SSL performance is improved with a new hardware processor.

The Array TM distinguishes itself from competitors by offering more features in a single box. The Array TMs starting price of $11,000 includes server load balancing, firewall and clustering features. Array Networks flexible pricing structure allows sites to add to the device only the services they need. Customers can add features to the box as their site requirements expand or as they need to improve the performance of other Web applications.

Most Web acceleration products, in contrast, offer several features at a set price, and some vendors sell different systems for different tasks.

The Array TM comes in the form of a 3U (5.25-inch) appliance with support for Gigabit Ethernet networks. A lower-end Array TM-C with support for 10/100G-bps networks is also available, starting at $4,995, for sites that dont need the Gigabit bandwidth. We tested a fully featured Array TM, which is priced at $51,970.

Array Networks is not the only vendor with a multifunction Web appliance. Inkra Networks Inc.s Inkra 1500 VSS (Virtual Service Switch) provides firewall, server load balancing, SSL acceleration and VPN (virtual private network) functions in a 3U switch form, with a starting price of $25,000.

In addition, F5 Networks Inc. recently announced a new version of its BigIP product with new technology called the Universal Inspection Engine and iRules. The new version of BigIP can direct any IP packet to the appropriate resource, providing better operation efficiency and Web traffic management than past BigIP versions. The SA700, a similar Web appliance from Blue Coat Systems Inc. (formerly CacheFlow Inc.), also provides Web content and SSL acceleration in a compact 1U (1.75-inch) appliance.

The Array TM runs on Array Networks proprietary ArrayOS, a noteworthy optimized BSD-based operating system. But the companys Speed- Stack technology is the special sauce that allows the Array TM to improve the performance of multiple networking services.

SpeedStack couples the TCP/IP stack with HTTP parsing processes so that IP packets travel only through the stack once for each networking function. SpeedStack enables the Array TM to free up CPU cycles by eliminating the need for repeated TCP/IP processing for each component (such as server load balancing, caching, SSL acceleration and so on) to provide better overall performance and response time.

Standard server load balancing and caching systems, on the other hand, devote valuable CPU cycles to repeatedly processing TCP/IP connection requests and HTTP commands, leaving little headroom for the system to do its job.

The Array TM also includes the Webwall, a stateful inspection firewall with access control lists. The Webwall can protect sites from denial-of-service and Syn flood attacks. However, we were disappointed that the Array TM doesnt offer any VPN capabilities.

In eWeek Labs tests, it was simple to set up server load balancing on a test network, thanks to the new Array Pilot WebUI. After we configured the initial network setting using the command-line interface via HyperTerminal, we used Internet Explorer 5.0 to log in to the Array TM and were able to access configuration settings for all services.

Array Pilot also provides a useful centralized dashboard, called FlightDeck, for administrators to monitor network graphs and statistics. We also liked the way Array Pilot provided a configuration tree to let us set up server load balancing in a step-by-step fashion.

The Array TM supports virtual clustering for redundancy and high-availability applications. As many as 32 Array TMs can be clustered, with support for active/active and active/standby configurations. Cluster Control Protocol allows IT managers to configure a single Array TM and synchronize the configuration to all Array TMs in a cluster, saving time during rollout.

With the ability to cluster 32 Array TMs, IT managers can take advantage of Arrays new distributed caching feature to provide large caches for enterprise applications. Using the Cache Array Routing Protocol, sites can also roll out additional Array TMs to add cache capacity as needed, to a maximum of 32 appliances or 88GB configured as a single logical cache.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at