January 02, 2001, 11:05 AM — As more companies depend on doing business over the Internet, the e-commerce networks that support those efforts have to be reliable, secure and fast.
Unlike traditional corporate networks, where a controlled number of users elicit fairly predictable server demands, the peaks and valleys in demand for 'Net content require network professionals to learn new ways of setting up their infrastructures. Customers are no longer just throwing Web servers at network performance problems. Instead, they are changing the way their networks handle traffic -- turning to smart devices aimed at getting specific parts of the job done faster. Those devices -- load balancers, Web switches, caches and secure transaction processors -- are helping e-commerce sites meet corporate and customer demand.
Big companies such as Cisco, Nortel Networks and
Intel -- along with smaller vendors such as F5 Networks, Extreme Networks and CacheFlow -- are providing Web acceleration devices that create less downtime, greater reliability and better performance than Web servers could in the past.
For example, at Farmclub.com, cache devices are used to store frequently requested content and serve it more quickly than a generic Web server. Glenn Kaino, executive vice president at Farmclub.com, says without the specialized Web accelerators available today, such as caches, e-commerce would not be as successful.
"A few years ago, there were infrastructure demands that made today's e-commerce sites prohibitive," Kaino says. "The things that we wanted to do creatively and what was required to make those things happen in terms of infrastructure didn't always work."
Unlike traditional Web servers, the workhorses of any Web or e-commerce site -- load balancers, Web switches and caches -- are aimed at handling specific jobs.
For example, network managers can turn to caches, which hold content in memory and quickly serve it - making them an ideal choice for busy retail and media sites that get repeated requests for static content, such as catalog images. A typical cache device can range from about $10,000 for a simple device with a few ports to more than $80,000 for a cluster of devices that have added features such as load balancing.
A Web server can range from $7,000 to more than $100,000, depending on the horsepower it packs. On average, a cache handles content requests 50% to 80% faster than a Web server, observers say.