September 2009 Archives

Load-Balancer On A Stick

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Terry Pratchett created rat on a stick for his Discworld novels, but my mates at jetNEXUS have gone one better with a load-balancer on a stick... the sense of a USB stick, or CD if you prefer. For the relevance of this, let's back-track a little. The first L-B product I tested, back in 1999, was the Arrowpoint chassis-based product that cost a cool $125,000 - each. It cost Cisco even more, when they splashed out $5.7bn for that company a couple of months after my test. For the record, that product is now rubbish.

However, we should note that a decent spec server in those days from HP or similar also cost a pretty penny or two. Thus, it was that someone like NetScaler could still charge just south of $100,000 per L-B device, so $200K for a redundant pair, as recently as 2004. And they were a relative bargain at just $300m to Citrix. And, for the record, that still is a good product, just expenisive, as are those from my mates at F5.

In the UK we have Zeus - whose latest product I will be testing very shortly, so watch this space - which undercuts its US rivals on price:performance, but it's not everyone who needs an L-B (or Traffic Management/Application Delivery Controller etc) product that does 30,000 SSL transactions per second.

Moreover, the cost of server real estate has fallen dramatically since the heady days of the dot com boom, so it is not reasonable now to demand mega-money for an L-B solution if it's simply cheaper to add more servers and other forms of redundancy.

So, enter jetNEXUS and the L-B on a stick. The premise is thus: got some old servers that are doing time as a temporary coffee table or simply ticking over without really having an active role to play in your IT shop? So, take a bootable stick or disk from jetNEXUS with its ALB code on it, boot from the disk and watch your old server turn into a load-balancer in a matter of minutes. Key in an IP address and you're away. No mega money required, no weeks of training required, just basic networking skills.

How cool is that?

We tried it with a couple of "retired" servers randomly picked from jetNEXUS' official dusty corner of the machine room and they were magically turned into a redundant pair of L-Bs 10 minutes later, for miles less than the cost of an entry-level product from aforementioned US vendors.

So, if you've got some old servers gathering dust, you know where to go - just checkout - a full report will also be appearing on the Broadband-Testing website shortly.


I'm On The Train...

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Yet more extensive travelling and lack of Internet (I can't rate McDonald's free WiFi very highly based on recent experience - like going back to 2.4kbps dial-up - but now I am with, not one, but two mobile data networks (Vodafone and 3) as part of our new Mobile Test Labs stuff; so I'll be finding out just how bad (as you can see, expectations not too high at this point) the experience is, or otherwise.

Well, actually, it is my father who is mobile-broadband enabled. Not being a UK resident, I was not allowed to sign-up for myself at the local PC World in Wakefield (or anywhere else for that matter) so my dad did the honours... So he gets the paper work through yesterday and, having read it diligently, rang me to say "Aye up lad, tha's not going to use this when tha's abroad are tha? Have you seen how much it costs?"

I replied that I knew the associated costs and that these dongles would indeed only see use in the UK. That said, the day rate in France (Vodafone) of £9 is actually cheaper than most French MNO's charge in their own country anyway. To use it in Andorra would be £27 however, which is a tad steep, especially when you consider that, in same country, that much money buys lunch for four including wine, in a restaurant.

So - how has it been to date? At best, it's been like an ok WLAN connection, at worst, essentially useless, a bit like McDonalds WLAN for that matter. And here's a tip - anyone who fancies a browse over a pint at the excellent Ossett Tap hostelry and home of Ossett Brewery - forget mobile broadband. The signal for Vodafone, 3, and T-Mobile is as weak as a bottle of American Bud.

Tunnels very quickly become the bane of your life. Especially if you're try to place a bet with your online bookies at the time.

Had a very interesting meeting with Ixia, one of my test equipment partners today. Turns out they have support for the iPhone as a client for their IxChariot performance software wot I use. Since the client end is a free download, let me know if you are an iPhone user and would like to take part in an ongoing experiment to test iPhone performance around the UK.

More tomorrow, including load-balancer on a stick and other delights, so do tune in...

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