Simon Haslam's Oracle Fusion Middleware blog

Most quiet launch at Oracle OpenWorld 2011 - Oracle Traffic Director

It's not like Oracle to keep quiet about something good; here's one blog summarising this week's headlines at Oracle OpenWorld 2011: The Most Exciting Oracle OpenWorld and JavaOne Announcements in One Place

Now, I've no idea what (presumably cloudy) announcement will be made in Larry Ellison's keynote tomorrow, but for me I've already seen the new product of the conference: Oracle Traffic Director (OTD). This is not yet released, but watching the live demos it's certainly not vapourware either, and was described extensively at today's "High Performance Traffic Management with Oracle Fusion Middleware on Oracle Exalogic" presentation, primarily delivered by Mark Prichard and Arvind Srinivasan.

The first surprising thing was that there were only about 4 of us at the session! Why there were so few people is a total mystery to me. However, let me describe the key points of what I heard and saw.

Demo screen for Oracle Traffic Director
Oracle Traffic Director is a load balancer, local traffic manager, or application delivery controller (ADC), depending on your choice of term. It redirects incoming layer 7 (application) IP traffic to one of many clustered nodes (or origin servers), performs SSL offload, can cache or redirect content from other sources - by the sounds of it everythng you would expect from a high-end ADC like BIG-IP or Cisco ACE. There's nothing very revolutionary about that; in fact Oracle even had a similar, albeit mediocre in my opinion, product called Web Cache (of which 11g was announced as the terminal release at OOW 2010).

Where OTD comes into its own is that it is either a software installation, or, more likely, a virtual appliance (VA) running on Oracle VM Server and, in the case of Exalogic, this hardware of course is connected to the rest of the stack via high performance, low latency InfiniBand networking. VAs for load balances have been around for a year or two from the main players (like F5, Radware Alteon etc) but all the ones I have seen so far have been performance-limited and targetted at lab or test environments (with the exception of Zeus which of course has always been a software load balancer). This is not surprising: if you make your living out of selling high performance, proprietary network hardware, you're going to think twice before allowing customers to chose alternative hardware for production environments.

Oracle is aiming OTD at the traditional hardware ADC market, and as a means to fill quite an obvious gap in the Exalogic story. It uses the crypto-acceleration available in the latest x86-64 processors to support the SSL encryption. You might wonder why you would need 40GBps InfiniBand connections when front-end traffic is highly unlikely to approach anything like that - most load balancers connect via 1Gbps ethernet and, frankly, 100Mbps is often adequate, especially when connected primarily to the internet. The difference these days is that we look to load balancers to support not only external traffic, but lots of internal traffic, in particular SOA (such as service calls from/to BPEL and OSB). As more enterprise applications are built in a de-coupled, SOA fashion, especially where user interfaces are routed via Oracle Service Bus, the traffic volumes can grow dramatically. In particular when you look at pushing something like Exalogic to the limit with a real-world application incorporating layered Oracle products, like SOA Suite, I can imagine that the network traffic management could become a bottleneck. That said, anything saturating even 10Gb Ethernet bandwidth would mean ludicrous amounts of data by current standards for all but the most demanding of applications.

A more interesting advantage from my "mid-size" perspective is that Oracle can offer far tighter integration and configuration with Fusion Middleware. For example, OTD's WebLogic module can already dynamically add new managed servers to a cluster, and the configuration of things like health monitors could be provided out of the box, including being preset with sensible defaults. Probably more significantly though is that this puts the managent of ADC into the Infrastructure/Middleware Administrator's hands, rather than the traditional network administrator. In every organisation I work for these are different people, and usually completely separate teams, and it's often not easy to get a consistent, and fully tested, configuration that gives robust, high availability. Therefore a product like this, especially as a virtual appliance, could be very attractive indeed to more modest sites.

A little about OTD's roots: it is based on iPlanet, a mature product with a history spanning a large number of years and almost as many names, and something Oracle acquired as part of Sun. I couldn't quite work out the underlying architecture, but the impression given was that OTD is now separate to iPlanet. I suspect much of the engineering effort has been going into management tooling, such as scripting, along with the IB support.

Finally, from the title of the session, it appears you will only get OTD with Exalogic, but licensing details or pricing have not yet been announced.

So there's the summary of a very interesting new announcement for Oracle Infrastructure architects and administrators. I'll post a follow up when I'm back home with technical analysis.

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