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Big changes coming for the application delivery controller market

Dec 18, 20176 mins
Application Performance ManagementNetworking

ZK Research survey shows the application delivery controller market is about to go through significant change.

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Application delivery controllers (ADCs) have long been a critical piece of infrastructure.  They sit between applications and infrastructure and are the only piece of technology that can speak the language of both applications and networks. I have often characterized the ADC as the “Rosetta Stone” of the data center, as it’s the key to being able to translate application speak to the network and vice versa.

IT is undergoing a rapid modernization process, and things such as software-defined everything, the cloud, containers and other initiatives are having a profound impact on infrastructure.

To understand how these trends are impacting ADCs, I recently conducted an Application Delivery Controller Survey to get a pulse of IT professionals who work with ADCs. The demographics of the survey were 100 U.S.-based respondents across a variety of industry verticals and company sizes and is an accurate representation of the current opinions of ADCs with respect to IT modernization.

As is the case with all surveys, there were lots of interesting data points. However, six key themes stood out over the others:

  • ADCs are deployed predominantly to support on-premises legacy applications, but other use cases are emerging. The survey asked, “Where are you currently deploying ADCs?” The top response, at 47 percent, was “on-premises, legacy applications” followed by “on-premises private clouds” at 34 percent. These responses should be no surprise because ADCs have been used for decades to support on-premises workloads. With these use cases, particularly legacy apps, it’s likely the ADCs are deployed as hardware. Looking at other deployments, public infrastructure as a service (IaaS) clouds — such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services — were third at 22 percent, in a hosting facility was 13 percent, and platform as a service (PaaS) and containers were each 10 percent. Those numbers may seem small compared to the on-premises figures, but it’s important to understand that ADCs have been able to address these areas for only a few years, so the adoption is impressive.
  • Respondents are experimenting with non-hardware form factors. The survey asked, “What is the state of the following types of ADCs in your organization” and asked the respondents to choose between fully deployed, testing, researching, and no plans. Based on the above bullet, it’s no real surprise that 45 percent said “hardware” was fully deployed. Cloud and software on a virtual machine (VM) both scored 27 percent, followed by software on bare metal (16 percent), and software in containers (13 percent). Looking at the combined testing and researching number, 44 percent of the respondents chose software in a container and software in a VM, followed by 46 percent cloud-based and 36 percent on bare metal. The emerging, software-first deployment models are gaining steam, which is consistent with the rest of IT.
  • Over half are considering alternative vendors. The survey asked, “As you plan to migrate from mode 1 (legacy) to mode 2 (modernized) applications, will you consider an alternative vendor?” This was the proverbial good news/bad news data point for the incumbent vendors. The good news is only 4 percent said they will definitely select a new ADC vendor, and 37 percent said they will stick with the incumbent. The bad news is a whopping 59 percent said that they might stick with the incumbent but are open to new vendors. One of the fundamental tenets of my research has always been that market share shifts happen when markets transition and the ADC market is currently evolving. This is the time when traditional vendors must be willing to disrupt themselves or one of the startups will.
  • Network functions can be provisioned quickly, but core ADC features remain a challenge. Digital transformation is all about speed, and the survey probed into how long it took to perform critical ADC functions. The survey asked, “How long does it take you to perform the following tasks on your ADC?” Respondents selected “minutes,” “days,” “weeks,” or “months or longer.” The data was interesting in that it found the network-related functions are done in minutes. For example, 53 percent selected minutes for “Request an IP address for the new VIP,” and 51 percent chose “Add a DNS entry for the newly configured VIP.”   However, ADC-type functions took considerably longer. Only 18 percent said it took “minutes” to upgrade the ADC, compared to 31 percent who chose “weeks” or “months or longer,” with the other 51 percent stating “days.” Similarly, 18 percent said provisioning a new load balancer could be done in minutes, but 27 percent said it took weeks or months.  
application delivery controller survey ZK Research
  • Lag in ADC changes is impacting application rollouts. The survey had a strong focus on automation. One question asked, “Do you have the ability to automate configuration changes to an ADC?” Sixty-two precent said “no,” and 38 perecent said “yes.” An interesting data point is that 70 percent of the respondents with cloud-native ADCs did have the ability to automate. A follow-up question asked, “How does the speed at which you can make ADC changes impact the speed at which apps are rolled out?” The responses clearly indicate that the lack of automation is hurting organizations, with 67 percent saying it creates delays — 9 percent of those are significant, while 58 percent are minor.    Another automation-focused question was “Please select up to three features that would be most appealing in your ability to support digital initiatives.” Not surprisingly, “automation” was the top response (48 percent), followed by “application analytics” (34 percent) and “central management” (32 percent).
  • Satisfaction with current ADC vendors is tepid. The survey asked the respondents their satisfaction level with their current ADC vendors across a number of areas, such as centralized management, time to deploy, and automation. Possible responses: “completely satisfied,” “somewhat satisfied,” “neutral,” “somewhat dissatisfied,” or “completely dissatisfied.” There was no response in which the top two answers (“completely satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” were over 50 percent). Instead “neutral” scored over 50 percent in almost every category.  Considering how much money companies have invested in ADCs over the years and how mature they were, I would have expected the “satisfied” numbers to be much higher.  The top areas of satisfaction are “centralized management,” “time to provision new virtual services,” and “elasticity.” The areas of highest dissatisfaction are “cost,” “support for mode 1 applications,” and, not surprisingly, “automation.” 

Businesses are changing, and infrastructure needs to evolve along with it, making infrastructure modernization a key to success. ADCs have been, and will continue to be, one of the most important pieces of infrastructure, but they need to evolve and become more software-centric to meet the demands of a world that is becoming increasingly dynamic and distributed. 


Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research, and provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long-term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to end-user IT and network managers, vendors of IT hardware, software and services and the financial community looking to invest in the companies that he covers.

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