Application delivery specialist F5 Networks said it's working with Cisco, and Cisco's partner base, more closely than ever, as the two former rivals team up to drive adoption of Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) coupled with F5's own software-defined technologies.
F5 this week rolled out a device package -- similar to a plug-in -- to enable integration between the F5 Synthesis architecture for Software-Defined Application Services (SDAS) and Cisco's Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC). APIC, which started shipping last month, is the Cisco software that serves as the central management and configuration point for the ACI architecture.
The F5 device package, available via a free download, extends the capabilities of APIC so that it can also be used to manage and configure F5's layer 4 through layer 7 solutions.
"We put our hooks into APIC, so when a customer goes to configure ACI with [APIC], they can configure F5 solutions, as well -- things like layer 4 through 7 load balancing [and] SSL offloads," said Keith McManigal, F5 vice president, Americas Channel Sales.
The F5-Cisco partnership, formally revealed in November with the launch of ACI, would have seemed an unlikely one before 2012. The two companies were long competitors in the application delivery controller (ADC) space, before Cisco, in apparent concession to market leaders like F5, dropped the ax on its Application Control Engine (ACE) load balancer products in September 2012.
"We were competing with Cisco forever and ever and ever. I have been with [F5] 13 years. Twelve of those years we were in competition with Cisco," said Senior Vice President of Worldwide Channels at F5 Jim Ritchings. "[It's] not that partners didn't figure out how to put a best-of-breed network infrastructure together -- they did. We had partners putting Cisco switch and router products together with F5's layer 4 through 7 [solutions]. But now, with Cisco exiting our market, and the formation of a partnership between F5 and Cisco, the floodgates are open, so to speak."
The Cisco-F5 alliance, though strengthened by Cisco ending development of ACE, was catalyzed more by Cisco's vision for ACI, according to Ritchings. He said F5's own strategy with its Synthesis architecture aligns perfectly with Cisco's aim with ACI: to accelerate service provisioning by making networks more application-centric.
F5 said its partnership with Cisco around ACI has helped it "move up the stack" with large Cisco resellers who, in some cases, are including F5 in Cisco deals that they may not have in the past.
"That headwind is gone and now we've got a tailwind where [partners] are dragging us into deals," said McManigal. "Cisco is telling them to drag us into deals, so our business is growing exponentially with those folks."
One major Cisco partner that signed on recently with F5 is Nexus IS, a Valencia, Calif.-based solution provider that was acquired in April by fellow Cisco partner and systems integration giant Dimension Data. Nexus originally signed on with F5 just over a year ago to fill the gap left in its portfolio from Cisco end-of-lifing ACE, said Steve Rogers, director of Nexus' data center practice.
F5, in fact, offers a partner incentive program for solution providers who migrate customers off of ACE to F5's BIG IP platform. Last year alone, F5 recorded over 900 Cisco ACE replacements with its own technology.
But that opportunity, Rogers said, is the low-hanging fruit. He said the real opportunity Nexus sees with F5 is through its partnership with Cisco in the data center.
"F5 just fits naturally into this whole [ACI] framework of having feature-rich APIs," Rogers said. "That mentality, or that thought process, is really a strong differentiator in this software-defined space and, clearly, with Cisco's ACI strategy."
Although F5 and Nexus have only partnered for roughly a year, Rogers said F5 is already among Nexus' top 5 data center vendor partners in terms of revenue and margin. Nexus' overall data center portfolio includes 40 manufacturers, Rogers said.
Nexus was named F5's Growth Partner of the Year for 2013 in January.
"It's a very healthy business," Rogers said.
The ACI architecture is meant to foster an ecosystem of Cisco technology partnerships like the one with F5, according to Cisco Senior Vice President Soni Jiandani, who headed up the development of ACI.
"The ACI ecosystem continues to have a very robust and growing partner base," Jiandani said, emphasizing partnerships not only in areas like application delivery, but also security. "We have over 33 technology partners that are part of the ACI engagement efforts."
F5 declined to say exactly how many new Cisco partners it's signed on since the launch of ACI in November, but said there are more Cisco partners "transacting business than they did a year ago."
F5 also stressed that, while it's committed to the Cisco partnership and working more closely with the Cisco channel, its partnership with Cisco in SDN is not exclusive. The Seattle, Wash.-based company, for instance, also partners with Cisco SDN rival VMware.
PUBLISHED AUG. 14, 2014