ISP you is, or ISP you ain't on Unix

It's all happening. The race is on. Dominance is sought in the ISP (internet service provider) space.

It's all happening. The race is on. Dominance is sought in the ISP (internet service provider) space.

Sun reckons some 30 per cent, and growing, of its E10000 server business is internet activity, including mobile companies and wireless internet access, while 'all the internet banks use Sun - Egg and Smile run on E10000s, for example'. Services running through lastminute.com use a farm of 100 Sun boxes.

The internet business productivity purchasing service works.com has two IBM RS/6000 S80s running under Aix at the core of its internet operations. The S80s power the company's web site, which provides small and medium-sized businesses with discounts, and fast deliveries on 20,000-plus business products.

Network Solutions has selected an RS/6000 S80 to power the internet's master computer for all web addresses, and the global constellation of name servers for .com, .net, and .org. NSI also provides domain name registration services for all available country code top-level domains, eg .de (Germany), .fr (France) and .uk (UK). NSI registers most web addresses worldwide through various channels, including 260-plus companies in 30-plus countries in its premier programme, and 41,000-plus companies in the affiliate programme.

Now IBM has launched IBM ParaBlue for ISPs - 'a flexible architecture for ISP and portal platforms running in a Unix environment'. It's part of a portfolio of offerings for ISPs in Unix and Linux environments, covering storage, web servers, and web management software:

Big Blue's storage division has released two enterprise storage servers (ESSs), 'a step ahead', enabling ISPs to scale high growth in demand, and 'storage area network (San)-in-a-box', to deliver a pre-packaged combo of hardware, software, and expertise to get ISPs started. The San-in-a-box is based on fibre channel attached to an ESS, San fibre channel switch, and IBM Global Services installation and implementation services.

Servers are based on the latest generation of RS/6000 Unix mid range boxes - models F80, H80, and M80, are based on the same 64-bit copper technology of the S80 top-of-the-range. A range of packaging options is available for these servers.

Tivoli's service provider solutions constitute the final component, and enable the management of ISPs' infrastructure and subscribers.

John Lutz, IBM Net Generation Europe, says: 'ParaBlue for ISP enables ISPs to deploy integrated end-to-end service delivery management across back office IT operations, data, and voice operating networks, and wireline and wireless networks, allowing them to manage and deliver communications or information services to customers.'

The mantra out of Sun that 'the network is the computer' has been pursued for 18 years. Not just said, but implemented, in terms of both product development and business strategy. On products, the company has come out with the Netra t1 1RU system - designed with input from industry key players - which, with the E420R, became Sun's highest unit selling server within its first full quarter of business in 2000.

David Allinson, Sun's UK network server product manager, says: 'In this same quarter, early 2000, Sun as the market leader of Unix servers increased its share to 34.3 per cent, from 1999's 28 per cent. Share was mainly captured from Compaq and HP, which combined had a 1999 share of 49.9 per cent, which dropped to 38.1 per cent in Q1 2000, with Compaq securing the number two position from HP.'

Growing opinion has it the service-driven network will become the method of delivery for IT or network services. Although it's forecast the number of PCs sold and used to access these services will grow steadily (says IDC), by far the greatest growth to outstrip the existing PC interface will stem from a range of other devices. These include Wap phones, digital TVs with web access, web access pads, internet access devices, and consoles in public places. All will access an increasing number of services.

'Windows will then become a far less important consideration' is the Sun decree (one can sense Scott McNealy smiling in the background). The growth will be in the connectivity, bandwidth, processing, and storage capacity of the network. Sun's 'three big bets' as the blueprint for the development of the service-driven network are:

Massive scaleability - systems will be required to scale up where data cannot be easily replicated. Here, clustering becomes an important factor for reliable access to large active databases.

Continuous real-time computing is essential for a 24x7x360 network economy. People will be continuously connected to the internet, no matter where they are, and will want instant access to information, comms, and other services at all times. The days are gone of 'it's the weekend, so let's do the maintenance'. The challenge now is to design software, build systems, and provide support services that eliminate downtime, and deliver real-time responsiveness.

The integrated stack. With massive systems scaling, and continuous real-time services, the back-end system will have to be an integrated hardware and software stack. The microprocessors, storage, system software and middleware will all need to be seamlessly integrated for dependable operation.

So how fares the noble Unix? Swedish start-up Bluetail, which grew out of Ericsson's research labs in Sweden, develops and sells Unix based software to internet organisations. The company specialises in systems that maximise efficiency in the internet operating environment.

Being used to the Unix platform, Bluetail came under pressure to support Microsoft. While it offers support for both MS2000 and Unix, Bluetail prefers Unix for its application programming interface, reduced costs for ISPs using the solution, reliability, portability across multiple vendor platforms, and less maintenance. It has launched a solution that claims to make web site crashes a thing of the past.

Running on a PC, the 'ISP robustifier' is a software based solution which, as well as providing load-balancing, so one server is not overloaded while others are idle, also keeps the system working, even if one of the servers crashes. The workload is distributed across the remaining servers. Another feature is a function preventing new users accessing the system if the servers are close to overload - making site surfing much faster for existing users.

Three solutions are offered: mail robustifier for e-mail reliability; web prioritiser for internet site traffic management; and directory robustifier offering faster access to web sites.

A fast-responding web site is generally considered to be key to building a successful online presence. Yet according to research conducted by IDC and commissioned by Amdahl, few businesses know how responsive their own web sites are - let alone how long potential customers might be prepared to wait for the site to download.

Charlie Abrahams, Amdahl UK md says: 'Valuable business is likely to be lost because of this. Bear in mind competitors are only a click away. Still it's amazing companies don't know how long their customers are waiting to use the web site.' l

Managing to deliver

There's scant discussion about what ISPs must do to win in the fast-moving IP-centric (tele)comms market. They who deliver the services customers want, when they're wanted, with the required quality and security, and at an acceptable cost will win. Having the fastest Unix server farm will not guarantee success. The challenges facing ISPs called upon to deliver multiple services - data, text, video, voice, etc - over a converged IP-centric infrastructure are manifold. How does the ISP switch on such services across an increasing number of network devices? How are different devices from many manufacturers contained under one management system? How so quickly and accurately? How can it be ensured things like security, connectivity, etc are activated as intended?

Enter policy based network management (PBNM). OK, this isn't likely to appear on users' networks tomorrow. Today, most would probably add on more bandwidth to support more and more users and applications. Others might say 'stuff it - so let the e-mails fall off the edge of the net'. PBNM systems can have an architecture devised by the DMTF (distributed management task force) and IETF (internet engineering task force). What? Policy decision points (PDPs) receive information from the policy repository and make decisions based on those policies (eg the e-mails get priority). Policy enforcement points (PEPs) - eg gateways, switches, routers, firewalls - implement the decisions passed on by the PDPs. Sounds simple, but it isn't. Current activity is homed in on QoS and security.

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