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Application services meet up with SDN in the cloud

F5 is virtualizing its application delivery technology to serve SDN and cloud environments

By , IDG News Service
November 05, 2013 10:22 AM ET

IDG News Service - Enterprises and service providers are looking beyond collections of boxes and toward virtual data centers that are better at growing and changing, and now application services such as security and acceleration are about to fit into that picture as well.

[ALSO: SDN pioneers share their secrets]

F5 Networks, a major vendor of application delivery systems, has created a new architecture to make it easier to provide those services in the age of virtualization and clouds. The Synthesis architecture is based on F5's already shipping BIG-IP hardware and software and its BIG-IQ management system. It makes them easier to license and deploy for applications that may run in an enterprise data center, a public cloud, or both.

The so-called Layer 4-7 services that F5's products provide are closely tied to both underlying network infrastructure (so-called Layers 2-3) and the applications that enterprise employees or service-provider customers actually use. Those services may include authentication, access control, mobile optimization and other features. The way networks and applications are deployed is changing dramatically with cloud computing and software-defined networking, so F5 aims to help IT shops deliver application services in this new environment.

SDN architectures have been focused primarily on orchestration of networks, said analyst Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research.

"While that's important, there still are application services, things that happen above that network stack, that need to be orchestrated as well," Kerravala said. F5 is in a good position to do that because it supplies the application delivery controllers in so many data centers, he said.

Part of the architecture is a new way of licensing F5's products that will make it feasible for customers to apply Layer 4-7 services to all their applications, said Dean Darwin, F5's senior vice president of worldwide marketing.

The new architecture is more economical because it's less structured, Darwin said. Up until now, customers have typically identified a critical application and dedicated a hardware appliance to it. Now they'll be able to divide each box into multiple virtual appliances, cluster the boxes to pool capacity, or even run the appliance software on public cloud infrastructures such as Amazon Web Services, he said.

By clustering both physical and virtual appliances like this, enterprises and service providers will be able to build what F5 calls a Synthesis ScaleN service fabric. One ScaleN fabric can handle network throughput of 20.5Tbps (bits per second), accommodate as many as 2,560 instances of an appliance, and support as many as 9.2 billion connections, according to F5. Those are connections to applications, which can number far more than network connections to client devices. However, it's unlikely any customer could use up all those connections, said Senior Product Manager Lori MacVittie.

The Synthesis ScaleN service fabric can serve multiple tenants, so cloud providers can use it to add application services to their offerings for subscribers, F5 says. If an enterprise expands its fabric beyond the data center to a public cloud, all the services assigned to applications go with it, Darwin said.

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