F5, the de facto standard and market leader in application delivery controllers (ADCs), is holding its annual "Agility" event in Washington, D.C. At the event, the company took the covers off version 12.0 (formerly known as Badger) of its application delivery software, Big-IP.
This release of Big-IP is notable in that it's loaded with features to help F5 customers leverage private, public, and hybrid cloud environments. Big-IP 12.0 is a strong proof point for F5 to demonstrate its relevancy to the cloud. Historically, F5 grew its share and dominant market position by providing ADCs to help enterprises manage on-premise data centers. In fact, F5 positioning was so tightly tied to private data centers that many believed F5's run was over, like the company's chance of succeeding in a cloud-driven world were about the same as the Washington Redskins' chances of winning the Super Bowl. However, F5 has proven to be much more resilient than RG3 and has re-invented itself to be a critical component of any IT model – private, hybrid, or cloud.
This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, as the same argument was made with the rise of virtualization. In F5's early days, the growth of Big-IP was tightly tied to the growth of physical servers, so it stood to reason that if there were fewer physical servers, then there would be less demand for ADCs, correct? As Dwight Schrute would say, "false." The growth of workloads, physical or virtual, drove the need for more ADC functionality in more places. In fact, as the world became more virtual, organizations wound up with more virtual workloads than it had physical servers, making the ADC more important.
The same analogy can be made for the cloud. The growth of applications and workloads, no matter where they are located, requires some sort of intelligence and security layer to ensure things are running optimally, and that's the role of ADC.
F5's Synthesis model can be thought of as an application delivery "fabric" that combines physical and virtual resources to enable cloud and hybrid environments. The release of 12.0 bolsters Synthesis through the addition of HTTP 2.0 support and deeper integration with Cisco and a wide variety of hypervisors.
Also, F5 will make Big-IP virtual edition available in the Azure Marketplace. Customers will have access to F5's entire suite of software modules in Azure through F5's "Good, Better, Best" licensing model, with configurations that range from 25MB up to 1 Gig. Customers of Microsoft and F5 can leverage Big-IP to optimize application delivery in the Azure cloud through a set of purpose-built traffic management and security capabilities that make the deployment of applications and services seamless across the cloud and on-premise data centers.
Big-IP 12.0 also includes a number of new security features. F5 has been steadily gaining share in the highly competitive security market, so the new features should keep the momentum going. Big-IP now includes improved SSL capabilities and has enhanced DDoS capabilities to protect against high-volume threats, whether the infrastructure is on-premise or in the cloud. The company also added single sign on (SSO) that extends to the cloud via SAML. I believe that F5 is currently the only solution provider that can enable SSO to client-based applications and other browser-less environments, such as Microsoft Office 365. A few years ago, F5 got security religion, and now the company is as credible a security vendor as any of the pure plays. I expect to see further innovation in this area as businesses look to leverage the cloud in a secure way.
In all, F5 has added almost 200 new features to Big-IP, some small and some big, but all of them geared to helping customers embrace the concept of the hybrid cloud. When Synthesis was launched years ago, F5 positioned it as a "fabric" for private data centers, but with release 12.0 it can be thought of as a foundation on which to build a cloud strategy.