Newcomers expand application acceleration options

* Veteran IT vendor Nortel and start-up Strangeloop separately unveiled application acceleration appliances

A sure sign a market is hot is when new players continue to join the field. Over the last few weeks, two vendors have announced plans to offer application acceleration gear. Both are Canadian… but the corporate similarities end there.

One is a familiar name: Nortel, whose roots trace back to 1895 when it was founded as Northern Electric and Manufacturing to supply telecommunications equipment for Canada's telephone system. The other is newcomer Strangeloop Networks, a start-up founded in 2006.

Nortel’s new application acceleration appliance is the Application Accelerator, which is designed to speed the performance of Web-based applications by as much as 20 times. Included in the appliance are application profiles specifically optimized for Microsoft's Outlook Web Access, Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 and IBM WebSphere Portal.

Nortel is offering two models. The Application Accelerator 510 is geared for enterprises that expect fewer than 4,000 peak users. The 610 comes with dual power supplies, hot-swappable fans and dual hard drives, and it’s geared for enterprises that plan for more than 4,000 peak users.

The appliance sits in front of a bank of Web servers and reduces server load through compression, content caching, TCP optimization, SSL termination and load balancing. Centralized management features enable clustering of up to 256 units.

Meanwhile, Strangeloop unveiled its AppScaler family of appliances, which is specifically designed to boost the performance of Web applications based on the Microsoft ASP.Net development framework.

The AppScaler sits between an enterprise’s Web servers and load balancer and works to reduce Web site response time and increase the number of transactions an application can accommodate without degradation. Through caching, the appliance can reduce database calls and server lookups, for example.

According to Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala, what Strangeloop has going for it is its singular focus on ASP.Net applications. “They seem to have found a little niche in the market that no one else solves,” Kerravala said in an earlier Network World story.

However both newcomers will face hurdles competing against established players in the enterprise application acceleration market, such as Citrix, F5 Networks and Juniper Networks.

As a point product designed to solve a particular problem, Strangeloop’s AppScaler lacks the breadth of gear available from bigger vendors, for example.

For Nortel, a key issue is timing. It’s a couple of years behind early players in the application acceleration market, and playing catch-up is never an easy challenge.

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