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IP Metrics Goes Deeper into Network for Fault Tolerance

Two months after being acquired by storage networking vendor FalconStor Software, IP Metrics is shipping an update to its four-year-old network card failover and load balancing software that moves the solution up the fault-tolerant networking stack.

IP Metrics has sold NIC Express since May 1998. The software was originally designed to allow multiple NICs within a server that could load balance the server's communication with the network and, more importantly to customers, provide failover support so that a downed NIC wouldn't cut the server off from the network.

"For 75 percent of our customers, the key selling point is the advanced stateful failover," says David Wilbanks, vice president of business development and general manager of FalconStor's IP Metrics Division.

Nonetheless, the ability of NIC Express-loaded systems to survive failures began and ended with the individual server or workstation the IP Metrics software was loaded onto.

With the latest release, version 4.0, IP Metrics is introducing an Enterprise Edition of its product that looks deeper into the network for failure and routes traffic accordingly. NIC Express 4.0, Enterprise Edition, sends out status packets that peer into the network to identify faults. Upon finding a fault in a device somewhere on the network, the software begins a series of tests to pinpoint the switch or device causing the problem and fails traffic over to redundant networks without losing data. Network architects can customize the product to define the tests and the failover procedures in case of problems.

An example of the depth of detection would be a server that needs to route data across a network that has two parallel paths -- an A network and a B network. Each path involves an edge switch that routes the traffic to a distributed switch that finally sends the traffic to a core switch.

If the distributed switch on the A network were down, NIC Express Enterprise Edition would detect the problem with its status packets and isolate the problem with the customizable tests. It would then cause the server NICs to re-route traffic to the B network.

Under the standard edition of NIC Express, as long as at least one of the NICs in the server were operational, the server would continue sending data to the A network edge switch even though a problem existed deeper in that network.

For even the enterprise edition to work properly, though, the network has to have a redundant design. That requirement means FalconStor will begin selling the product differently.

IP Metrics handled NIC Express sales through a combination of direct sales and system integrator partners. The enterprise edition will require a heavier emphasis on the systems integrator side, because more consulting and integration services are required to implement a fault-tolerant network than a fault-tolerant set of NICs on a per machine basis.

According to Wilbanks, the FalconStor acquisition should help in distribution of the enterprise edition because the storage networking company is heavily focused on VAR and systems integrator channels.

Financial firm Bear Sterns is one of the early adopters of the enterprise edition and an example of the kind of group-up rearchitecting necessary to create a true fault-tolerant network that uses NIC Express Enterprise Edition.

Bear Sterns, which approached IP Metrics on its own for a solution it was developing for a new Manhattan facility, has redundant networks, different utilities providing services on each side of the building, two workstations at each trader's desk and dual NICs in each workstation.

The new enterprise edition costs $995 per Windows server or workstation. FalconStor also offers consulting help in redundant network design through its High-Availability Consulting Services Team, Wilbanks says.

The standard edition costs $495 per Windows server or workstation. The company plans to release a Linux version soon.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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