Clustering software for FreeBSD targets Web apps

By John Mayer, |  Operating Systems

Amid a burst of new clustering announcements comes word of new failover safeguard
software with entry-level pricing that is easy on IT's wallets. That news is welcome to
the growing band of managers that must ensure 24 x 7 operation of their web sites.

Notable among announcements is word that Berkeley, California-based PolyServe has
forged an agreement with FreeBSD, Inc. to ship its UnderStudy distributed server
clustering software with all new versions of FreeBSD 4.0, the open-sourced, BSD UNIX
operating system for PC-compatible computers.

The two firms will ship an evaluation copy of the software with every copy of
FreeBSD. "We've found the best way for people to understand our product is to actually
try it," says company President Vince Schiavo. PolyServe already offers versions of its
software for most popular versions of Linux, as well as Windows NT and Solaris.

Vendors of various sizes are now racing to support a spike in demand for failover
services driven by e-commerce applications. Recent announcements have included new
clustering capabilities for Santa Cruz Operation's (SCO) UnixWare, Novell's Netware and
Microsoft's Windows NT. The fact is that once-arcane multiprocessor solutions are
becoming far more commonplace.

Originally designed for web server failover applications, PolyServe's UnderStudy
performs IP service monitoring, failure detection and failure to an alternate host. The
software is designed as a lower cost alternative to hardware-based clustering packages
that add extensive load balancing and policy-setting capabilities UnderStudy doesn't
offer, but that can cost significantly more.

"Typical users are smaller companies which have web sites that are very important to
them, but don't have the kind of bucks needed to go out and buy two S5 boxes for
$40,000," notes Schiavo. In contrast, the FreeBSD version of Understudy will sell for
$499. Linux versions sell for the same price, while the NT version costs $899 and the
Solaris version sells for $1199.

Applications are not limited to the Web, however. "HTTP is what most people use it
for, admits Schiavo, "but you can also monitor FTP, SMTP or put it in any TCP port you
want to monitor." As an example, Pacific Bell recently bought multiple copies to put in
offices with DNS servers to support high availability and failover to an alternate
host. Other users include NTT Communications in Tokyo, which recently signed a large
deal with PolyServe to use UnderStudy with its own ProGuard middleware.

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