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Cloud adoption drives the evolution of application delivery controllers

Jun 06, 20194 mins
Application Performance ManagementCloud ComputingHybrid Cloud

Application delivery controllers (ADCs) are on the precipice of shifting from traditional hardware appliances to software form factors.

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Credit: Aramyan / Getty Images / Microsoft

Migrating to a cloud computing model will obviously have an impact on the infrastructure that’s deployed. This shift has already been seen in the areas of servers, storage, and networking, as those technologies have evolved to a “software-defined” model. And it appears that application delivery controllers (ADCs) are on the precipice of a similar shift.

In fact, a new ZK Research study about cloud computing adoption and the impact on ADCs found that, when looking at the deployment model, hardware appliances are the most widely deployed — with 55% having fully deployed or are currently testing and only 15% currently researching hardware. (Note: I am an employee of ZK Research.)

Juxtapose this with containerized ADCs where only 34% have deployed or are testing but 24% are currently researching and it shows that software in containers will outpace hardware for growth. Not surprisingly, software on bare metal and in virtual machines showed similar although lower, “researching” numbers that support the thesis that the market is undergoing a shift from hardware to software.

The study, conducted in collaboration with Kemp Technologies, surveyed 203 respondents from the U.K. and U.S. The demographic split was done to understand regional differences. An equal number of mid and large size enterprises were looked at, with 44% being from over 5,000 employees and the other 56% from companies that have 300 to 5,000 people.

Incumbency helps but isn’t a fait accompli for future ADC purchases 

The primary tenet of my research has always been that incumbents are threatened when markets transition, and this is something I wanted to investigate in the study. The survey asked whether buyers would consider an alternative as they evolve their applications from legacy (mode 1) to cloud-native (mode 2). The results offer a bit of good news and bad news for the incumbent providers. Only 8% said they would definitely select a new vendor, but 35% said they would not change. That means the other 57% will look at alternatives. This is sensible, as the requirements for cloud ADCs are different than ones that support traditional applications.

IT pros want better automation capabilities 

This begs the question as to what features ADC buyers want for a cloud environment versus traditional ones. The survey asked specifically what features would be most appealing in future purchases, and the top response was automation, followed by central management, application analytics, on-demand scaling (which is a form of automation), and visibility. 

The desire to automate was a positive sign for the evolution of buyer mindset. Just a few years ago, the mere mention of automation would have sent IT pros into a panic. The reality is that IT can’t operate effectively without automation, and technology professionals are starting to understand that.

The reason automation is needed is that manual changes are holding businesses back. The survey asked how the speed of ADC changes impacts the speed at which applications are rolled out, and a whopping 60% said it creates significant or minor delays. In an era of DevOps and continuous innovation, multiple minor delays create a drag on the business and can cause it to fall behind is more agile competitors.

adc survey zk research ZK Research

ADC upgrades and service provisioning benefit most from automation

The survey also drilled down on specific ADC tasks to see where automation would have the most impact. Respondents were asked how long certain tasks took, answering in minutes, days, weeks, or months. Shockingly, there wasn’t a single task where the majority said it could be done in minutes. The closest was adding DNS entries for new virtual IP addresses (VIPs) where 46% said they could do that in minutes.

Upgrading, provisioning new load balancers, and provisioning new VIPs took the longest. Looking ahead, this foreshadows big problems. As the data center gets more disaggregated and distributed, IT will deploy more software-based ADCs in more places. Taking days or weeks or month to perform these functions will cause the organization to fall behind.

The study clearly shows changes are in the air for the ADC market. For IT pros, I strongly recommend that as the environment shifts to the cloud, it’s prudent to evaluate new vendors. By all means, see what your incumbent vendor has, but look at least at two others that offer software-based solutions. Also, there should be a focus on automating as much as possible, so the primary evaluation criteria for ADCs should be how easy it is to implement automation.


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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