F5: Latest BIG-IP Update Most Significant Yet


F5 Networks this week unveiled the latest version of its BIG-IP application delivery offering -- a seminal update to the platform that F5 says will drive deeper, stickier partner-led sales behind the idea that seamless application delivery will be the make-or-break in next-generation, virtualized data centers.

The update, which came in time for this week's F5's Agility conference in Chicago, expands on F5's vision for what executives call the "dynamic data center." It builds on previous product releases made by F5 in 2011, including the May launch of its midrange VIPRION 2400 application delivery controller and its Virtual Clustered Multiprocessing (vCMP) technology, which allows multiple instances of its BIG-IP software to run on a single device.

What Version 11 of BIG-IP does is tie together a user's ability to enable application security, network access controls, application acceleration and other key application delivery functions into a single management plane, provision those resources faster than before, and manage those resources down to the most granular levels yet.

Alan Murphy, senior technical marketing manager and content development lead at F5, described version 11 as F5's most significant BIG-IP update in several years.

The key to v11's advanced application management, deployment and optimization capabilities is a technology F5 calls iApps, a means of clustering and managing applications, as well as assigning security policies to applications, all at once, instead of individually. iApps, according to Murphy, can reduce the application management hassles associated with enterprise IT environments -- hassles that are often magnified, he said, with customers embracing virtualized applications in droves.

"We wanted to create a system where we can bundle applications together, make them manageable and follow applications throughout their lifecycle regardless of where they move," Murphy told CRN. "Before, it took a long time to do that because there are so many individual network components."

What would normally take weeks for most enterprise IT administrators can be reduced to days with iApps, he insisted. In essence, network services can be provisioned as quickly and efficiently as virtual machines are.

Another key to iApps is that it's also a development platform: both partners and customers can customize iApps for use in specific enterprise IT environments, such as government settings or other vertical markets, and within software environments, like Microsoft Sharepoint, with which F5 is compatible. The iApps technology also includes analytics capabilities for IT managers who want to capture application performance results.

With the launch, F5 is making 23 templated iApps offerings available. IApps will be a part of F5's DevCentral developer community, for use by solution providers and F5 partners with app development expertise.

"They can create an iApps template themselves and use that for a professional services engagement to work with customers," Murphy said of partner opportunity. "They can write it for their customers, or distribute it inside their own organization."

The Version 11 update of BIG-IP will be available in September, Murphy said, and the iApps site is already available in F5's DevCentral.

According to F5, v11 will be available in both physical and virtual appliance form, with various pricing depending on the level of appliance needed. A standard v11 virtual appliance, for example, runs about $6,000.

Murphy also said that the BIG-IP update allows F5 customers to take full advantage of F5's vCMP technology to move between physical and virtual appliances. The vCMP offering makes management more flexible, he said, providing virtual clustering within a chassis and the ability for customers to scale on-demand using the F5 Scale-N functionality in F5's Traffic Management Software Operating System (TMOS) software architecture.

As a "data center control plane," what Scale-N does is allow multiple active devices to appear as one solution, as well as the ability to distribute load across various ADCs on an application-by-application basis. Virtualization and multi-tenancy technologies let Scale-N enable multi-way clustering between various devices to create, essentially, a resilient, flexible pool of application delivery services.

Overall, making application delivery more effective will make data centers more dynamic and also let customers faster embrace trends such as "cloudbursting," or hybrid application hosting, Murphy said.

Steve McChesney, F5's vice president of channel sales, Americas, said that iApps will be an easy way to onboard more partners to F5's DevCentral program, as well as give partners hesitant to push into app development an added resource for their customers.

The BIG-IP update as a whole means partners have a more nuanced story around application delivery, application security, and data center challenges driven by cloud and mobility, he said.

"A good, strong integrator can sell this, and have a discussion where they say, 'let's get the application guys in the room' and get that dynamic going," McChesney said. "They can lead this conversation."