LineRate Systems takes on networking gear with software

The rapidly changing world of networking has surfaced another startup. This one is a four-year-old company from Boulder, Colo., called LineRate Systems, which has built software that helps deliver services on top of virtualized networks. It has raised $5.4 million in Series A funding since its creation, and is in fundraising mode right now for its Series B round.
Like Embrane, another startup whose software allows companies to deploy load balancers, firewalls, and other network services at scale and without setting up physical hardware, LineRate has similar goals. It wants to make it easier and faster for companies to deploy network services in a virtualized compute environment. Unlike Embrane, which is focused primarily enterprise and some service-provider cloud data center deployments, LineRate is thinking big — like, Google (s goog) big.
CEO Steve Georgis says the new breed of webscale and big-time cloud computing companies that operate tens of thousands of servers are his clientele. One already using the software is PhotoBucket, the picture-storing and sharing site. Thanks in part to a partnership with Twitter, PhotoBucket supports 23 million users and about 4 million photo uploads per day. By using LineRate’s software on commodity servers, Photobucket saves on hardware costs (no more expensive special-purpose F5 machines,) while also gaining agility. Instead of unplugging boxes on the network to deliver load balancing, IT staff at Photobucket simply program the software to manage the deployment of services.
The LineRate software, which was developed at the University of Colorado, works on machines running both network-specific chips and x86-based silicon. This means someone could deploy LineRate’s software to deliver network services on top of Intel boxes or on top of gear using network processors.
The end goal here, like Vyatta’s original goal, is to convert the expensive boxes associated with networking to commodity boxes. At the layers closer to the applications, LineRate hopes to do this. At the lower levels, Vyatta still has hopes of succeeding with its operating system for x86-based boxes.
LineRate’s operating system accelerates the way networking messages are passed through from one server to another, which is why it thinks it can speed up network services even on x86-based chips, which historically have been too slow to handle the real-time world of network services. The software is also massively multitenant, supporting up to 4,000 virtual machines located on one server. This serves cloud clients today, but also presages a future when servers get more cores and capabilities that will allow them to support more virtual machines. Right now, such a level of multitenancy would be a management nightmare.
LineRate, Embrane and the entire ecosystem of companies gravitating toward the shift in networking right now, are all trying to bring networking into the same era of of agility that virtualziation has enabled for computing and storage. For more on this topic, attend our Structure 2012 conference in June, when we’ll dicuss the broader trend of how this fits into the software-defined data center.