Switch to Run Multiple IP Services

Inkra's virtual service devices combine 7 functions that would typically require separate appliances.

A networking startup is hoping to simplify data center networks by enabling service providers and enterprises to combine multiple IP services on a single switch and deploy them virtually for multiple applications or customers.

Inkra Networks Corp. this week will introduce two virtual service switches that can run up to seven IP services—a scenario that would typically require separate networking appliances.

The Inkra 4000 will support four- and eight-port Gigabit Ethernet or 32-port Fast Ethernet configurations; the Inkra 1500, for smaller data centers, will support four-port Gigabit Ethernet.

The switches will let a customer run a combination of IP services comprising firewalls, IP Security virtual private networks, Layer 4-to-Layer 7 server load balancing, SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) acceleration, Web acceleration, server health monitoring and bandwidth management.

Officials at the Fremont, Calif., company said additional services are planned, but they declined to provide details. The Inkra 4000, due this quarter, starts at $98,000. The Inkra 1500, due next quarter, starts at $25,000. Running seven services on seven boxes would cost two or three times as much, analysts said.

At least one service provider is ready to try the new switches.

"Its about time," said Rob McCormick, chairman and CEO of Savvis Communications Corp. The Herndon, Va., company hopes to deploy two Inkra switches so it wont have to implement a physical load balancer or firewall for each customer.

"We were looking around for boxes that I could put in a central position ... where each [customer] thought they had their own little virtual load balancer. And none of the [switch and appliance vendors] were building anything like that," said McCormick, who expects to save 90 percent on capital and operations costs.

Potential customers, however, worry about performance and security.

Vince Russo, chief architect at Terra Lycos S.A., in Waltham, Mass., wants to use switches that combine multiple IP functions into one piece of hardware. While Russo believes the switches can help lower data center operating costs, he worries that they could add a single point of failure and lead to vendor lock-in if they require proprietary APIs. "Its a dual-edged sword," Russo said. "On one side, its less pieces of equipment as more intelligent devices are doing more. On the flip side, [it] belies the fact that application logic in the switch is complicated."

So far, the only competition for the Inkra switches will come from Nauticus Networks Inc. The Framingham, Mass., companys 2000-series switch, due in beta this summer, combines load balancing and SSL security.

A Cisco Systems Inc. spokesman declined to say whether the San Jose, Calif., company is working on similar multi-services switches. Ciscos high-end Catalyst 6500 can perform content switching, including load balancing, within the switch, the spokesman said.