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A new angle on net applications

Today's breaking news
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Palo Alto, Calif. - Start-up NetBoost, Inc. is about to burst onto the network scene with a new class of devices de-signed to help network applications keep pace with increasingly fast LANs and WANs.

The company is developing what it refers to as a network application engine, a LAN-attached product that will run firewall, intrusion detection, network probe, bandwidth management and other network-centric applications from third-party vendors.

The company's goal is to give these programs the power to process packets at wire-speed, even if that speed happens to be 100M bit/sec or higher.

"Every month new applications emerge that want to live in the fabric of the network," said Rich Shapero, a general partner at Crosspoint Venture Partners, a Woodside, Calif., venture capital firm that joined three others in funding NetBoost with $4.6 million. "But these solutions have been polarized into two categories - black boxes and shrink-wrapped applications - each of which has downfalls that NetBoost tries to address."

The black boxes - proprietary software/ hardware combos - lack flexibility and don't allow users to run more than one application per system, Shapero said. The shrink-wrapped applications suffer performance problems be- cause they run on general computing platforms, such as Intel Corp. processor-based machines running Windows, which are not meant to handle packet processing at wire speeds, he said.

Len Rand, NetBoost's chairman, CEO and president, said his company will address the flexibility issue by enabling users to run multiple applications on the company's device. He said NetBoost will take care of the performance issue by delivering a product based on a programmable Application Specific Integrated Circuit that specializes in letting applications tear open packets, classify them and take action on them at incredibly high speeds.

The company's first product will work on 100M bit/sec networks, which Rand said will give network devices an average of just 6.8 microsec to process each packet that comes their way.

Routers and switches have been able to provide customers with adequate performance at increasingly high wire speeds because these devices typically just need to look at packet headers and then usually perform specific, repetitive tasks, Rand said. But firewalls, intrusion detection programs and other new network applications typically need to look packets over more closely, he said.

Rand anticipates that customers will place NetBoost devices along- side switches and routers. But users might swap out existing firewalls and other such network application products in favor of NetBoost's offerings, particularly when moving to a higher speed network infrastructure.
NetBoost will provide APIs that network application developers and IS shops can write to so their software can take advantage of NetBoost's hardware.

NetBoost plans to comarket its hardware with software from other vendors and use some sort of "NetBoost inside" marketing scheme. NetBoost has already sealed one OEM deal and has several other partnerships in the works, but Rand declined to name names.

NetBoost's product plans appeal to Jeffrey Fritz, principal network engineer at the University of West Virginia's network services group in Morgantown.

"Being able to run multiple network ap-plications on a central device is a good idea," Fritz said. "We're beginning to deploy more network applications, like firewalls, all over the place. It's not only getting expensive to manage all these network application devices, but the hardware is huffing and puffing as the networks get faster."

NetBoost, which currently has 30 employees, plans to officially introduce itself in June and expects to announce partnerships and release products by year-end.

NetBoost: (650) 328-9100.

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