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A10 CEO spells out application delivery controller advantage and next steps

A10s device helps consolidate ADCs, thus reducing costs.

By , Network World
February 22, 2012 10:12 AM ET
Lee Chen

Network World - A10 has built a solid business in the application delivery controller (ADC) market, but its platform also supports IPv6 migration and many cloud requirements, nicely positioning the company for the future. Network World Editor in Chief John Dix recently sat down with A10 founder and CEO Lee Chen for a company update. Chen, who was co-founder of Foundry Networks, says A10 already has 1,700 customers and more than 7,000 devices deployed.

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Your Advanced Core Operating System (ACOS) platform seems to give you some product flexibility, can you spell that out for us?

We have invested significantly over the years in ACOS, A10's proprietary data kernel, and it gives us a performance advantage, particularly in Layer 4 and Layer 7 transactions per second.

From day one A10 has been focused on application networking, and our vision was to build a really powerful platform and on top, layer multiple applications. So the ADC has been one of the major applications we built on the platform, and we then addressed IPv6 migration and the cloud is another piece we are building on top. Today ADC generates about 75% of our revenue, and the rest comes from IPv6 migration and cloud deployment.

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You're up against some big players in the ADC market, but still manage to do well for yourself. What do you attribute your success to?

When we entered the market there were already several big players, including F5 and Cisco, with F5 being the biggest with a bit over 50% share. But A10 focused on customer service from day one, and now we have a good reputation for that, and we focused on building a platform that provides a big performance advantage, especially in the Layer 4 and Layer 7 space. Some of our customers really care about the price and our objective is to provide the least cost per connection, per transaction, per session.

We also provide some advanced features. I'll give you two examples. One is called multi-tenancy. We allow a single device to run multiple routing domains. Each domain can be running either IPv4 or IPv6. This allows a data center operator to use one device to host multiple customers. That will reduce operational costs. And we are fairly early on in terms of providing a feature called virtual chassis so, as traffic continues to increase, the customer does not need to keep installing bigger and bigger boxes, they can just add additional devices and logically chain them together in a cluster that behaves as one device.

Also, as a result of our performance advantage, some larger customers are using our device to consolidate multiple ADCs, thus reducing operational costs. And our device provides a tremendous power consumption advantage. In some comparative analyses we did, compared to our largest competitor, we use one-third of the power, so if you have a large data center, you're talking about big power savings.

What percentage of your customers are service providers vs. enterprise shops?

I would say it's probably 80% enterprise to 20% service providers. But on the other hand, our revenue is probably 75% generated from service and content providers and 25% enterprises.

When you're in a bid against the likes of an F5, how do you win?

F5 being the dominant player in the market, sometimes they are the default. But when we get invited to the party, especially with a proof of concept, we have a good chance based on our responsiveness and our product performance. If you look at transactions and connections per second, our 2U 5200-11 can provide 4.5 million Layer 4 connections per second, which is more than double F5's four-blade chassis solution today.

What's the secret sauce? Is it all in the ASICs?

No, it's actually all in the software. The software is a big piece of it. We have more than six years invested in ACOS. That pays a significant dividend for us.

That sounds like something that would be hard to emulate?

In theory, with R&D anyone can catch up. But it's all in the people, the innovation, how you lead a team. So there's nothing to prevent anybody from doing anything in technology, but it's a moving target, right? We never stop. When we first released ACOS in 2007 it was a 32-bit OS. Between 2009 and 2010, we released a 64-bit ACOS. Now we are working on something to address the next-generation ADC, but I can't disclose the details yet.

Is it hard to unseat incumbents?

ADC is a very sticky business. Nobody wants to change their vendor. But on the other hand, after three or four years a customer will typically look around because it's beneficial to consider a second vendor solution. So sometimes we get invited because the customer wants to look at a second vendor. Sometimes we get invited because they are not happy with their current vendor. Sometimes the cost of the existing vendor is too high.

One additional advantage we have is we decided early on we wanted to reduce a customer's operational complexity by not having a license model. So with A10 you get everything. Layer 2/Layer 3 devices vendors typically compete on port density and price per port. We make the deployment and buying experience really simple. You buy one box at one price. We don't play the games the others do for professional services, extra modules, $X amount more for Y performance. When you buy one of our boxes you can use two features or you can use 100 features. When we add a new feature in, you can use it.

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What is the underlying box?

The AX Series, which we design completely. Basically it's an Intel-based PC server platform but we have been really keeping up with the Intel platform. I think we are probably the only company in the ADC space that already has two models leveraging Intel's Sandy Bridge technology, and we have more Sandy Bridge products coming out. So does Intel but the box is an A10 specialized design. The interface is a 1-gig or 10-gig. We plan to roll out the 40-gig and 100-gig in the future.

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