Turbo box zips into fast lane with easy Web face

It’s easy to lose yourself among the myriad tricks and tweaks of network management that aim to optimize application performance. Some of the smartest technology is often bogged down in a mire of complex configuration.

Keeping IT simple, at least from the user’s perspective, is crucial to any technology’s success. As application acceleration devices become much more sophisticated and powerful, vendors are challenged to present these advances with easy-to-use interfaces.

To this end, Juniper Networks Inc. recently made significant enhancements to its data centre acceleration platform known as DX. Systems administrators will find a new set of configuration tools and a broader scope of basic functionality in DXOS 5.1, the latest version of its operating system software.

Gartner analyst Joe Skorupa says the upgraded appliance now makes Juniper a competitive player in the application acceleration space. Making it simple has made DX a more complete product, he says.

Juniper has effectively shaken up the front-end application delivery box from its acquisition of Redline Networks last year, rounding out the controller’s server load-balancing capabilities — including global WAN optimization — and building a customizable Web user interface called AppRules.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company has also introduced staggered licensing that allows customers to choose from four levels of feature functionality.

“The whole thing with App-Rules is to make it easy,” says Skorupa, research director, enterprise communications infrastructure, for Gartner Research in Fremont, Calif.

“If you’re running an Oracle forms environment, you’d want to get the specific optimizations that work well there. With App-Rules, you don’t have to know about all the individual features that might be useful with Oracle Financials, for example.”

For the common applications, Juniper has made tailoring of the device for that environment much easier, says Skorupa. Pre-configured templates and plug-ins allow the user to pick from a list of applications like PeopleSoft or some Oracle-based forms application that needs acceleration.

As a more complete product, Juniper is in a better position to compete with products like Netscaler from Citrix Systems and Big-IP from F5 Networks, the market leaders.

“The Juniper DX is now able to address the more complex environments, where large corporate sites are hosting CRM, ERP and two or three other in-house-developed apps,” says Skorupa.

The DX is able to absorb a lot of the functions that were traditionally done by the Web server, according to Sean Tippett, Juniper’s DX product manager.

For example, the DX can terminate TCP connections from thousands of browser sessions and in its place it sends out just two or three connections to the Web servers. “The DX handles TCP connection management and the Web servers are free to just serve content,” says Tippett.

Among the templates in App-Rules is a configuration called NitroRules, which can “handle 90 per cent of the things you would ever need to do on 90 per cent of the applications,” says Tippett, citing common browser-based applications such as PeopleSoft, SharePoint, Microsoft’s Outlook Web Access and Siebel.

“If you just wanted to get into [application acceleration] in a very easy manner, just implement [NitroRules] and you’d most definitely be set,” he claims.

A user could then go further into the specifics of the application and set more explicit rules. For example, AutoSSL allows the DX to take over SSL termination and relieve the PeopleSoft server of the task.

Tippett says the next frontier is really to go into the applications themselves, to merge networking with applications.

A lot of the inefficiencies in the underlying protocols have been solved, he says, but the protocols of the applications themselves are inefficient.

According to Skorupa, companies like F5 Networks are taking application delivery controllers far beyond capabilities like load balancing, HTTP compression, SSL termination and TCP multiplexing.

These devices are on the verge of becoming a core piece of the data-centre infrastructure, acting as a checkpoint for security, dispatch and authentication, he says. “They’re ideally positioned to do security, particularly as we move to more XML — things like Web application firewalls, more and more deep packet examination and processing, XML validation and transformation,” says Skorupa.

“But they must have more rules capabilities and templates built in, or no one in the world is ever going to be able to figure out how to use them.”

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