Microsoft Acquires Tiny Load Balancing Company

After using Convoy Cluster Software from Valence Research Inc. (Beaverton, Ore., to create Web server farms for and for several months, Microsoft Corp. acquired the tiny load balancing company.

Convoy Cluster Software enables TCP/IP load balancing and clustering of Windows NT servers. The software can route traffic coming into a single IP address to as many as 32 servers. The system administrator can statically assign higher traffic loads to more powerful servers in the cluster. If a server fails, the software will dynamically redistribute traffic among the remaining nodes, according to Karan Khanna, a Windows NT product manager for Microsoft.

According to one analyst, the acquisition was motivated by a desire to make Windows NT and Internet Information Server more attractive to Internet service providers (ISP). "For ISPs, dynamic load balancing is just as important as clustering," says Dan Dolan, an industry analyst with Dataquest (San Jose, Calif.).

Valence's technology provides Microsoft with a good base for improving this aspect of its clustering technology, Dolan says. "It's a good base, but they still have work to do," he says. "Microsoft is not off the hook yet for improving their overall clustering solution."

Dolan also points out that Convoy Cluster works only with static Web pages. For Active Server Pages or other dynamically generated content, customers will still have to use Microsoft Cluster Server on the back end, he says.

In addition to Web sites, Microsoft's Khanna says the Convoy Cluster technology could be used to balance traffic from any TCP/IP-based application, including outgoing SMTP, Point-To-Point Tunneling and proxy servers. But the application is most likely to be employed on Web sites and intranets, Dolan says.

Microsoft announced it plans to rename the product as the Windows NT Load Balancing Service, and that it will be included as a standard component of the Windows NT Server 4.0 Enterprise Edition. However, Khanna says the company hasn't yet made any decisions about distribution details. "We are continuing with the existing distribution channels. We haven't made concrete decisions about the future," he says.

Valence was founded in 1996 by William Bain and Kyril Faenov. Convoy Cluster is the company's only product. The terms of the acquisition were not announced. The company's six employees will be joining Microsoft in the Windows NT networking group, Khanna says.