Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is moving into the application switch market with its announcement Monday of the Sun Secure Application Switch N2000 Series.

The N2000 application switch family is based on technology acquired from Nauticus Networks in January 2004. It is designed to improve system availability, performance and security for distributed network applications.

Like all application switches, the N2000 does this by acting as a proxy for Web applications and the application servers powering them. Unlike a simple network switch, application switches actually process the content of the network traffic.

The new N2000 does this by providing server load balancing and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption/decryption. With the server load balancing, when an application or server goes down or gets bogged down, the switch automatically directs client sessions to fail over to other available resources without interrupting the client.

With the SSL engine, edge servers don’t have to bother with this time-consuming process. The N2000 family also provides firewall services.

Sun claims that the Sun Secure Application Switch N2000 Series offers a 10x boost in price/performance over competitive offerings, for virtually all network applications running on SPARC- and AMD Opteron processor-based systems. Specifically, Sun claims, based on testing done by VeriTest, that the N2000 can deliver more than 12,500 connections per second of SSL and more than 2.1 gigabits per second of encrypted throughput for improved resource utilization.

“As enterprises continue to horizontally scale out their data centers, they are increasingly embracing network intelligence in order to more effectively manage application-level performance and security,” said Lucinda Borovick, IDC‘s director of Data Center Networks.

“Sun has clearly recognized this trend. With the combined dynamic virtualization and security features in Solaris and the Sun Secure Application Switch N2000 Series, Sun has a compelling solution.”

“IT departments are working to lower TCO by consolidating costly specialized networking and security equipment,” Jonathan Schwartz, Sun’s president, said in a statement. “Couple that trend with our servers, Solaris 10 and now the N2000 Series, and we simply out-class competitors in addressing customers’ network needs with greater system availability, reliability, security and leading price/performance.”

Josh Weiss, former CEO of Nauticus and now a Sun executive, added that the new switch family is “focused on the data center and its applications. It is designed to seamlessly integrate software, network and computers to deploy applications.”

In particular, the N20000 “dovetails well with Sun’s N1 and grid approach,” Weiss said. For example, “it can work with grid to dynamically load balance servers.” In addition, “you can take a single switch and, with a software add-on, carve it up into secure partitions. Thus, one box can support multiple application domains.”

Sun is entering the application switch market for the first time. Weiss said F5 Networks Inc. and Nortel Networks Ltd.’s Alteon line offers similar functions.

But “what’s different about us is that we do this in hardware, not software, for better speed, and we can virtualize servers,” Weiss said. Cisco Systems Inc. also offers such services in its Cisco CSM (Content Switching Module), which adds layer 4 to 7 content switching capabilities to Cisco’s Catalyst 6500 Series Switch and 7600 Series Router.

“We’ll be selling the N2000 throughout of all Sun’s channels,” Weiss said. But Sun would “prefer to sell it as integrated systems with Solaris 10. It can run with Linux and Windows, but really shines with Solaris.”

That said, he also noted, “One of the challenges going further with the channel is showing the real value in system-oriented solutions rather than in one-off boxes. Still, while “it will take more education, the value is easy to understand.”

Prices for the N2000 start at $37,000 and move upward from there depending on configuration. The virtualization software, which enables the switch to work with multiple domains, is an additional $8,000. Weiss said the switch’s primary market will be data centers.