F5 Networks Closes In On $1 Billion At Dawn Of 'Application Era'

It's a key move as the red-hot application delivery vendor cements itself as an important piece of the cloud computing, mobility and data center consolidation stories happening in IT.

During the kickoff session at F5's Agility 2011 conference in Chicago Wednesday, F5 CEO John McAdam said the company has 2,130 employees and is adding more than 100 every quarter. By most analyst estimates, F5 is the runaway dominant player in ADC technology, controlling about half of the Layer 4-7 switching market.

Perhaps more importantly, F5 about to hit a big financial milestone, McAdam said. It's on pace to exit its fiscal 2011 with more than $1 billion in revenue, up from the $882 million it reported for fiscal 2010.

The reason for F5's prosperity? According to McAdam and other F5 executives, it's F5's role in virtualization, cloud infrastructure and the need for more efficiently deployed and managed applications. Data centers need to move beyond static architecture, and IT administrators have to manage huge network traffic demands more securely than ever before.

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"I think we're in the sweet spot of industry trends, and business trends," McAdam told the roughly 560 partner representatives and 275 customer representatives attending the conference.

F5's passionate channel community is seeing growth in both the frequency and deal size of F5 sales, McAdam said. Partners are also embracing F5's focus on application security, virtualization, software development and the other segments that years ago distinguished F5 beyond the load balancing niche where it made its name.

Mark Anderson, senior vice president, worldwide sales, said during his portion of the morning presentation that F5's next goal is to make partners even more profitable behind F5 products, and make F5's role in data center sales more sophisticated.

F5 has broken from the ADC and application security pack, he said, because of its focus.

"This is not a sideline for us like it is for Cisco, like it is for Citrix," Anderson said, referencing F5's two most immediate competitors in the space.

Anderson said that more than 2,000 individuals have completed the technical and sales accreditation programs F5 launched in January.

Up next is a certification program, which Anderson said he expects to be rolled out over the next two years. That certification program, which F5 executives have touted for some time, will create F5 security engineers, core engineers and optimization engineers based on their technical specialties, and also promote the concept of an F5 Master Architect.

Anderson said F5 has already started hiring trainers and embracing third-party certification programs.

"This is not about racking and stacking and plumbing," Anderson said. "This is about Layer 4 to Layer 7. This is sophisticated stuff."

Major product releases, such as this week's highly anticipated launch of version 11 of F5's BIG-IP application delivery services, are designed to support F5's contention that the application, not the network itself, is the focus of the next-generation data center.

Partners will be crucial to addressing "the era of applications," added Eric Giesa, vice president of product management at F5, and the move from a "device-centric model to one that is aligned to the application."