F5 Spreads Load Balancing Across ISPs

F5's new Big IP Link Controller software works across switch platforms.

F5 Networks Inc. will extend its lead in link load balancing technology this week with new options for enterprises looking to safeguard their connections to increasingly complex networks.

F5s new Big IP Link Controller software works across a pair of new low-end and high-end hardware switch platforms aimed at midsize and large enterprises. One of the key features of the update is the ability to provide price-based load balancing.

"A customer [enters] bandwidth and price for each link, and we balance based on that information," said an F5 spokesman in Seattle.

Industry observers say users who continue to move business-critical applications traffic onto secured Internet links should be looking to load balancing devices that can spread network traffic across several ISP links.

"Right now isnt the time you want to put all your network eggs in one basket," said Ted Chamberlin, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn. "Any telecom provider could be bankrupt within a year. There is no safe provider out there. Splitting out bandwidth between two providers is really prudent."

Most traffic management providers that offer link load balancing or route control use the complex and unwieldy BGP (Border Gateway Protocol), which requires coordination and cooperation with ISPs. BGP requires a certain amount of expertise and is less flexible, according to Big IP Link Controller user Raymond Williams, network developer at NorthWest Multiple Listing Service, in Kirkland, Wash.

"We stopped using BGP. With it, you have to come up with a lot of justifications, talk to a number of ISPs. It was a lot to get it working, and its propagation was slow--our routers took a 20 percent memory hit," said Williams.

Even with the BGP route control, NorthWest Multiple Listing Service would often see its routers overcome by traffic from a single user. To solve the problem, the company would have had to upgrade to more costly dual DS-3 lines. "Nine T-1s is cheaper than a DS-3, and we have failover," Williams said. "[Big IP Link Controller] watches all the lines, and when one nears saturation, it doesnt send any more requests to that router."

F5s release includes a simplified GUI with new configuration wizards, along with Layer 2 bridging support that allows the devices to be installed without having to change firewall addresses. It also supports duplex and P95 billing options in variable bandwidth pricing schemes. With the P95 support, the load balancer can take traffic bursts that dramatically inflate a monthly bill and move them onto less expensive lines.

By supporting the new release on the Big IP Link Controller 1000, F5 is extending link load balancing to midsize businesses with two or three T-1 or DS-3 lines. The Big IP Link Controller 2400, which uses F5s new Packet Velocity application-specific integrated circuit to speed the handling of Layer 4 transactions, is intended for large enterprises with intense Layer 4 and Layer 7 processing requirements.

Big IP Link Controller Version 4.5 on both switch platforms is available now. It starts at $14,990 for the 1000 and $22,990 for the 2400.