Equalizer Revs Up Linux Nets

Offers global load balancing, but GUI is limited.

Coyote Point Systems Inc.s Equalizer E350 appliance, with version 7.0 of Coyote Points Equalizer software, gains Layer 7 capabilities and global server load balancing support. In so doing, it provides smaller companies with an inexpensive way to improve the performance of TCP/IP network services. However, as eWEEK Labs tests showed, the Equalizer E350 is best suited for small-to-midsize Linux shops on a tight budget, and administrators at these sites might want more from a GUI than the Equalizer appliance offers.

The appliance runs Equalizer 7.0 software on top of a hardened Linux operating system. It can be configured with standard load balancing schemes fairly easily, but in tests, we found it difficult to create more granular load balancing schemes leveraging Layer 7 capabilities.

The Equalizer E350, which shipped this month, uses match rules to provide content-aware load balancing. Match rules enable load balancing decisions to be made at a higher protocol level. Administrators can, for example, add a match rule to base load balances on a specific host name, a file name or even on the HTTP request headers.

However, setting up match rules for Layer 7 content-based load balancing in large-scale topologies was a complex, time-consuming process in tests. A match rule wizard is in the works, officials said, but for now, companies will have difficulty configuring the Equalizer E350 for advanced tasks unless their IT staffs are well-versed in Linux.

The E350 appliance with Equalizer 7.0 software is priced starting at $5,995. The 1U (1.75-inch) chassis houses an Intel Corp. 566MHz Celeron processor, 128MB of RAM and dual 10/100M-bps Ethernet ports. For larger companies that want to provide multisite load balancing, Coyote Point also offers the Envoy geographic load balancer option for an additional $2,995 per site.

The Equalizer E350 can support 16 servers per virtual cluster and 2 million concurrent connections. For sites that dont need Layer 7 load balancing, the E250i Layer 4 (packet-switching) load balancer is available for $3,995.

The E350 appliance is inexpensive compared with products such as the Array TM from Array Networks Inc. or appliances from NetScaler Inc. and F5 Networks Inc., which can easily cost more than $20,000. However, the Equalizer E350 is not as easy to configure as competing products and does not offer performance-enhancing features such as hardware SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) acceleration, nor security features such as a built-in firewall.

Software solutions such as Zeus Technology Inc.s Zeus Load Balancer make it easier to set up Layer 7 load balancing rules.

In tests, we configured initial network settings using Microsoft Corp.s HyperTerminal terminal emulation software. The Web-based GUI made setting up virtual clusters and HTTP services straightforward processes (see screen), but the GUI felt incomplete and didnt help us when we set up match rules for Layer 7 load balancing. We had to use the console to change the IP address of the inbound/outbound interfaces.

The GUI also doesnt provide online documentation, and the system log is elementary. In addition, the GUI lacks any sort of real-time statistical monitoring. We recommend that administrators with Linux know-how use the command-line interface for configuration tasks.

The Equalizer appliance has no hardware redundancy, although it supports failover to a second system.

Equalizer E350 Executive Summary

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