Q&A: F5's McAdam On Momentum

CRN Senior Editor Chad Berndtson recently sat down with John McAdam, president, CEO and director at F5 Networks, Seattle, Wash., to discuss the company's current momentum in the market and in the channel.

We’ve talked often about F5’s billion-dollar revenue march. How do you keep this momentum going?

The answer’s always going to be tech leadership, and I think a lot of companies get confused by that. They grow and they start to think it’s all about culture and people, and that’s part of it, but you’d better have technology leadership. The biggest thing for us has been not compromising on hiring. The No.1 thing I worry about, by a mile, is can we get the right people -- it’s really hard to do that right now, which is maybe surprising -- and then make sure it’s the right fit.

F5’s dominant market share in ADC has been stable for some time. Has the competitive mix changed at all?

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Not all that much. The big change that we saw happening was Cisco. Two years ago, Cisco, which is a great company, suddenly just started to go off the radar for us in the way where a number of the clashes -- ‘encounters’ is the political phrase -- has gone down quite a lot. Citrix is doing a good job of linking XenApp and their overall solutions, so they’ll have some advantages. But we think we’ve got a great solution. We’re talking small percentages of competitive change at most.

One thing that’s come up a lot with F5’s partners is your security emphasis -- that you are, in fact, a security company hiding in plain sight.

I don’t know, maybe it’s a Seattle thing, but we tend to be reasonably low-key. That is changing as we get bigger. Security is going to be a big focus for us this year, both in our solutions and our image.

So you would describe F5 as a security company?

Yes, absolutely. The issue is that you have to walk a balance because that’s not the only thing we want to be known as; we also have the infrastructure play and the optimization, and we’re essentially controlling the data center. So I don’t want it to be just security, but definitely part of it.

Do you need to add more security competencies?

The answer to that is always yes, and our strategy has been the same for about seven or eight years. If we can build our own vs. buy it, whichever is best and comes to market fastest, we’ll do it. We’re very conservative buyers and have not made a lot of acquisitions. But we’ve talked a lot about the firewall market. We’re starting to replace firewalls at big, big companies, and we have a number of multimillion-dollar opportunities. We’ve got more to do, and management is one area where we need to put a lot more effort, and one we’re looking at.