F5 Edges Out Cisco in Application Delivery

Driven by the trend to centralize servers and deploy Web applications, the application acceleration market grew 36 percent in 2005, up from $915 million in 2004, according to research firm Gartner.

Solution providers said they are seeing growth in application acceleration solutions, which aim to help customers get more out of their existing infrastructure without buying more bandwidth.

“Now that the technology is establishing itself and the marketing is coming up, I’ll expect to see 100 percent growth this year,” said Bob Reny, account manager at Adeara, a Sunnyvale, Calif., solution provider that builds application acceleration solutions around technology from vendors such as F5, Juniper Networks and Radware.

Gartner splits the market into two segments: application delivery controllers (ADCs), which reside in the data center and are deployed to improve the performance of browser-based applications, and WAN optimization controllers (WOCs), which are typically deployed in data centers and remote locations to improve the performance of applications accessed across the WAN by tackling bandwidth, latency and protocol issues.

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F5, Seattle, claimed the top spot in ADCs with a 30.5 percent market share for 2005, knocking San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco down to the No. 2 spot with a 29.3 percent share. F5 was buoyed by strong third and fourth quarter sales, Gartner said.

Solution providers working with F5 said its strategy to integrate multiple features helps give it an edge over competitors.

“The way I term F5 is that if you buy a toaster, you don’t want it to have a digital camera attached. F5 has it right in terms of the integrated technologies,” said Chris Labatt-Simon, CEO of D&D Consulting, a solution provider in Albany, N.Y. “With other players, you have to buy three, four, five devices that you have to put in to provide the same functionality you get from a single F5 box,” he said.

Labatt-Simon said a little soul-searching on F5’s part, accompanied by a reinvigorated channel push, are also helping drive sales.

“They recognized in the past six months that they are not just a security company; they are an applications company, and one focus is in security,” he said. “They really started re-understanding what they were as a company, which brought them back to the channel,” he said.

F5 overhauled its channel strategy last fall, pledging to give partners first dibs on sales leads and launching a deal-registration program.

Meanwhile, Packeteer gained the lead in the WOCs space with a 17.5 percent market share. Dayton, Ohio-based Stratacache slipped into the No. 2 spot, with a 16.5 percent market share, followed by NetApp, Sunnyvale, Calif., which grabbed 15.4 percent of the market.

D&D often deploys Packeteer and F5 products as part of an overall solution, Labatt-Simon said.

Players like Cisco and Juniper aren’t sitting still. Partners expect new application acceleration wares from both vendors in coming weeks, and a bevy of other vendors such as Citrix Systems and Riverbed Technologies are heating up the application delivery and WAN optimization markets as well.