One of the most agonizing problems for Web site operators has been figuring out how to scale up the back-end applications that create a site's dynamic content and process its e-commerce transactions.
While dozens of products can load-balance traffic among multiple Web servers, there hasn't been a networking device that can distribute application processing in a similar way. Solving the first problem doesn't necessarily help with the second, because even if the Web servers stay up and are always available, if the crucial applications that drive the site are dead - so is your site.
Now, HolonTech, in conjunction with Microsoft, has developed a switch that promises to manage traffic for Windows NT applications among multiple servers. HolonTech's Hyper Extended Clustering Services (HyperECS) switch works with the Microsoft Cluster Server service to allow up to 16 NT servers to work in tandem.
"This makes Windows NT a much more robust platform for Web applications," said Michael Skelton, president and chief operating officer of HolonTech.
Internet traffic management systems, which distribute requests quickly and intelligently over a network, have been very hot lately. HolonTech's HyperECS goes beyond what the standard Web load-balancing systems can do, incorporating much more intelligence about the applications.
HyperECS essentially acts as an external director for distributing resources among multiple Windows NT servers. Microsoft Cluster Server, a standard component of Windows NT Server 4.0, can support only two servers by itself: one serving as the active machine, the other acting as a passive "standby" in case the main server fails.
By providing a way to consolidate the processing of multiple NT application servers, HyperECS gives a Web site's applications much higher performance and consistent availability, according to Sri Chaganty, vice president of engineering at HolonTech. "For static data in the Web server tier, the scalability problem has been solved with load balancers," Chaganty said. "With HyperECS, the applications can see similar kinds of scalability through standard operating system [Application Programming Interfaces]."
A Microsoft representative said the company is working with others to build cluster-aware network devices, but she would not provide names.
Peter Firstbrook, a research analyst at Meta Group, said HyperECS should provide more fine-grained control over a Web site's infrastructure. "This lets you build some intelligence into your app to help you distribute traffic based on business rules," he added.
Chaganty said future versions of the HyperECS switch will be available to cluster servers running other operating systems, including Sun Solaris and Linux. HolonTech expects the HyperECS switch to be available by the end of October, priced from $24,000.