Is Total Traffic Control the Total Web Server Appliance?

by Logan Harbaugh

With this review of Lightspeed Systems' Total Traffic Control 3.0, we dip our toes into the load balancing waters. Total Traffic Control is a server appliance that provides load balancing capabilities, traffic monitoring and control, a firewall, and various other capabilities -- all for a reasonable price.

Total Traffic Control: A server appliance that provides load balancing, traffic monitoring and control, a firewall, and more for a reasonable price

A number of appliances in the traffic management space are difficult to classify -- are they load balancers, traffic managers, firewalls, or something else? With Lightspeed Systems' Total Traffic Control 3.0 (TTC), the answer is all of the above.

Unlike most products in this space, TTC is available in either software-only form or as an appliance. It provides load balancing, bandwidth management, and traffic prioritization, a firewall, spam blocking, and Internet traffic monitoring control and reporting, at a reasonable price. Administrators looking for all of the functionality that TTC provides will find the package less expensive than buying separate products.

The TTC we tested is based on a Dell 500SC mini-tower, although a 1U rack-mount system is also available. It is equipped with a 1.26 GHz Pentium III processor and 512 MB of RAM, as well as three 10/100 Ethernet ports, one for the internal network, one for the external network, and one for out-of-band management.

Some appliances use a limited or "locked down" version of an operating system, often BSD. TTC uses Windows 2000 Workstation, with SP2 and a custom TCP/IP stack, called the IP Magic Interface Driver. To ensure security, only the management card has access to the Windows operating system - the internal and external NICs cannot access the system. The custom stack is also optimized, providing higher throughput than that of the standard stack.

Setting up the system is a matter of booting to Windows and then starting the TTC application. Once the application starts, the user is presented with a choice of wizards to create a load balancing server, a traffic prioritization server, a firewall, a traffic monitor, a proxy server, or an Internet Border server, which acts as a firewall, spam filter, and URL filter in one. All of the applications can be run together, but each one is configured separately, and care must be taken to ensure that the data entered for each matches the others. Once the wizard is completed, the configuration is shown as an object-based diagram and can be modified or enhanced by adding objects.

Two Web servers are included with the software, one for managing the appliance through the out-of-band management interface and one for reports. The reports Web site provides selected reports pulled from the SQL database and presented as ASP pages, which can be incorporated into other applications as desired.

The network monitoring tools are varied and provide a breadth and depth of monitoring that is hard to find, along with comprehensive reports. For example, rather than simply reporting that traffic is 89 percent TCP/IP, 10 percent NetBIOS, and 1 percent IPX/SPX, the reports break down traffic by UDP, TCP, and ICMP port number, showing traffic percentages for SMTP, HTTP, FTP, and many others.

Among the 20-plus reports available are total incoming or outgoing traffic, traffic by internal IP address, traffic by protocol and internal IP address, traffic by protocol and external IP address, top 50 incoming traffic by destination MAC address, top 50 outgoing traffic by source MAC address, applications and IP address, top file-sharing downloads, top file-sharing uploads, top 100 external URLs hit, top 100 internal URLs hit, e-mail senders/receivers, and host-to-host conversations.

A suspicious traffic report can look for user-defined strings, such as profanity, threatening language, and sexual terms. The report identifies the sender and recipient for each suspicious message. A capture function can then be used to capture actual messages if desired.

Lightspeed is marketing TTC to educational institutions interested in the reporting functions. Administrators monitor traffic to comply with the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and other federal and state regulations.

Each server or tool that is part of TTC provides good (at a minimum) functionality. The load balancer is not the most capable product available, nor is it the least expensive, but it does provide all the functionality most sites will need. The traffic monitoring and bandwidth control tools are exceptional, as are the reporting tools.

Vendor Home Page: Lightspeed Systems
Sever Home Page: Total Traffic Control
Server Pricing:

Software Only$3,995$5,495
1U Rack-Mount$5,995$7,495
1U Rack-Mount, 2 CPUs$6,995$8,495

Price of Server Setup as Tested: $6,495 (mini-tower configuration)

Pros: Lots of functionality in a single package; Most of the configuration is taken care of with the appliance; Excellent bandwidth control and traffic control capabilities; Many varied reports allow careful monitoring of the network in almost any scenario, from educational institution to ISP to corporate site;
Cons: Administrators looking for only one or two functions will find less expensive alternatives

This article was originally published on Wednesday Aug 21st 2002
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