Andes Networks looks to scale acceleration heights

Start-up Andes Networks Inc. last month began beta-testing hardware designed to greatly speed cryptographic processing used to safeguard Web transactions.

Observers say the company’s A5210 devices, which are designed to accelerate processing of traffic encrypted using the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol, work up to 10 times faster than competing gear from Rainbow Technologies Inc. and nCipher Corporation Ltd.

SSL accelerators, which can attach to servers or switches, are used to offload SSL processing duties from Web servers, which can take a major performance hit when processing such transactions via software.

Andes, founded by researchers from Sun Microsystems Inc. and the University of California at Berkeley more than a year ago, has shown in the lab that its devices can handle up to 5,000 SSL packets per second (pps) while dealing with 128,000 concurrent sessions. The company’s rack-mountable boxes each feature 10/100 links, and the company claims they can process SSL transactions at wire speed.

Andes’ co-processor based hardware is designed to handle the bulk encryption requirements of large Web sites, which are often supported by large server farms.

“Andes is set to be a powerhouse,” says Jim Vogt, CEO of Ingrian Systems Inc., which sells an SSL processing appliance based on Rainbow SSL acceleration hardware, but just switched to technology from Broadcom Corp. in search of better performance. Vogt says the Ingrian i140, which handles 320 SSL transactions per second at a cost of US$30,000, does better key management than Andes’ boxes by encrypting between the accelerator and Web servers.

Another firm, Chrysalis-ITS, competes with Andes by making an SSL accelerator chip that vendors may OEM, but also licenses its key-management technology to Andes, says Mark Taber, a vice-president in the Chrysalis semiconductor group. “Andes is setting the bar that every Web SSL accelerator appliance will need to meet,” Taber says, hinting that Chrysalis plans to ship an SSL accelerator that works at gigabit speeds later this year.

Three A5210 Series devices will be made available by Andes this fall. The appliances, which support up to 1,024-bit RSA encryption, will cost from US$17,000 to US$60,000. The company is on the Web at