A little over two years ago, application delivery controller market leader F5 Networks acquired LineRate Systems to jump into the software defined networking (SDN) game. There are a number of SDN solution providers that operate at layer 2/3, but LineRate delivers application-layer services into a software-defined environment. These services include security, acceleration, optimization, and intelligent traffic management.
Late last week, F5 unveiled the first fruits of the acquisition when it announced a fully virtualized, lightweight load balancing product. The pure software solution enables customers to extend F5's Synthesis framework to any application regardless of where or how it's deployed.
The new F5 LineRate Point Load Balancer is a low-cost, lightweight load balancer offered in a virtual form factor. Customers can use the Point Load Balancer to quickly deploy application proxy and load balancing capabilities. Because the solution is offered as a virtual workload, it is massively scalable, a key criteria for cloud providers and enterprises looking to build a private cloud.
ADCs have been a critical component of data centers for decades, but F5 has tailored LineRate Point to meet the needs of the emerging software defined data center (SDDC). In an SDDC, applications are highly distributed, so the network services, all the way up to layer 7, need to be deployed on a per-application basis. This gives IT personnel application-level granularity with respect to control and monitoring capabilities.
Also, any technology deployed in a software defined environment must be orchestration-friendly. This means lightweight in footprint, an agile resource and the deployment, and automatable change management.
Lastly, customers can procure LineRate Point via a subscription model that includes 24/7 support. This creates much greater economic flexibility versus the traditional "pay for it all up front" purchasing model. Down the road, I would expect F5 to shift to consumption-based pricing so customers can truly "pay by the glass."
LineRate Point shouldn't be thought of as competitive or cannibalistic to F5's traditional ADC products. Rather, it's complementary to it. The current BigIP platform is used for mission-critical applications such as CRM and email systems. These are applications that support thousands or even tens of thousands of users. These typically number in the dozens for most enterprises, and a robust, hardware-based ADC is usually the best product of choice, as performance far outweighs every other criteria.
LineRate Point targets purpose-built or niche applications that are used by 10 to 100 people in an organization. There are literally hundreds or even thousands of these applications in use at most organizations today. These applications are often deployed as virtual workloads and do not have the same performance requirements as their mission-critical counterparts. Deploying dedicated hardware appliances for this long tail of small applications is complete overkill and an inefficient use of resources. LineRate Point is ideally suited for this class of applications.
There's actually another tier of applications that sits between the ones used by a handful of people and those used by thousands. Vertical and departmental applications, such as HR and financial systems, usually fall into this bucket. These are used by a few hundred individuals and have moderate performance requirements. For this segment, F5 offers either the Virtual Edition of BigIP or the LineRate Precision product.
LineRate Point rounds out the F5 portfolio nicely, as it previously had no solution for the thousands of applications with a low number of users. F5 customers no longer have to ask the question "to ADC or not to ADC?" or calculate the trade-offs between cost and performance. Now F5 can offer them an ADC to fit any use case.