F5 Networks Makes Security Ambitions Clear With New Hire


F5 Networks' appointment of a senior vice president for security is one more indication of a strategic shift loyal F5 VARs have seen coming for some time: the evolution of F5 into full-fledged security market player.

F5 earlier this week appointed Manny Rivelo its senior vice president, security and strategic solutions. Rivelo, a 19-year veteran of Cisco and most recently Cisco's senior vice president, engineering operations and systems, will drive F5's expansion into the security market and help F5 and its channel partners set security strategy.

John McAdam, F5's president and CEO, said Rivelo will have a lot of cross-functional responsibility at F5. But his charter is to sharpen the focus on a market that F5, better known for application delivery controller (ADC) and other data center technologies, has made no secret about pursuing.

"We see adjacent market drivers that will augment the ADC market, which we think is going to grow anyway," McAdam said in an interview with CRN this week. "I think the key is going to be that we have a focus and an executive team focused specifically on this market."

McAdam cited F5's Application Security Manager (ASM), part of its BIG-IP application delivery networking portfolio, as the type of product that has become critical for F5 customers as more and more cyberattacks are targeted at specific applications. ASM sales have grown every quarter sequentially, he said, and F5 is also seeing traction behind products like its Access Policy Manager (APM), which covers remote application access.

"There are pretty sophisticated attacks aimed at Web sites and Fortune 500 companies that are bringing traditional firewalls down," McAdam said. "The firewall business is a big, big opportunity for us over time."

F5, which recently crossed the $1 billion annual revenue mark, had been considering the senior-level security role for a while, McAdam said. The company had set up what McAdam called a "tiger team" several months earlier, to examine how F5's various units and functions could best align to its security ambitions.

Rivelo was unavailable for comment this week. According to McAdam, Rivelo had been in discussions with F5 for a few months.

"The cultural fit for me is a top priority," McAdam said. "Obviously there's the experience, and bringing more bench strength to the company will be an asset as well."

F5 will be investing in field experience and systems engineering training specific to security, McAdam added, as well as investing behind F5 solution providers with security expertise. There will be new products and security upgrades to existing products, McAdam said, although he was quick to point out that the most recent release of F5's TMOS, version 11 of its software architecture, had a range of security updates.

F5 will more aggressively compete with the incumbent firewall vendors, McAdam acknowledged.

"When you're talking about Internet-based applications open to denial of service attacks, it's really about [whether] the performance of application delivery controllers can cope with that," he said. "We've internally identified the firewall space as a place where we can go."

For F5's top national solution providers, the push toward security is hardly a surprise.

"We all knew it was going to happen eventually," said Helen Lesser, executive vice president at Nexum, a Chicago-based solution provider. "It seems a little later than I would have thought they'd throw their hat in the game, because the story has been convincing. Better late than never."

Lesser said F5 has been discussing its security ambitions with partners for years. It's a great move to raise awareness of F5's product set, she said, especially with the traditional lines between networking-, security- and data center-centric VARs blurring.

"I don't think we define ourselves as security VARs or networking VARs anymore," she said. "Those roles have been merging for the past few years."

Lesser acknowledged that F5's move will bring it into tighter competition with other firewall vendors, including the well-known names Nexum also carries.

"I think it's inevitable. There are so many people playing in that next generation firewall space, and being that it's sort of a newer area of a huge market, it's natural that people have their hats in the ring," she said. "At Nexum, it's a matter of doing what's best for your customers. There are [F5] solutions that are a better fit for some than for others."