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F5 Ups the Ante on Web Acceleration

Will F5's bid to bring together WAN acceleration and AFE functionality catch on in enterprises, or will the new device's Web-traffic focus stifle demand?

There's an uneasy truth about deploying rich applications over a WAN: Whether browser- or fat-client-based, performance usually stinks. Nevertheless, server centralization and the requirement to supply employees with the data and applications they need leave IT shops scrambling for ways to boost application performance to acceptable levels.

For enterprise applications, the solution has been to deploy WAN acceleration appliances in a symmetrical fashion—one system in the central office and similar, smaller devices in remote offices. Vendors here include Blue Coat Systems, Cisco Systems, Citrix Systems, Riverbed Technology and Silver Peak Systems. For external-facing applications, single-sided AFEs (application front ends) have been the solution of choice, with F5 Networks and Citrix being top market contenders.

F5 is looking to unite both camps with the July 30 release of a significant upgrade to its WebAccelerator.

The new product will add symmetrical processing functionality to F5's BIG-IP AFE appliances in hopes of enticing IT architects with a one-vendor system for both internal- and external-facing applications. However—at least in its current incarnation—that will be a tough sell. Where products from the competition started out accelerating Microsoft CIFS traffic and have since evolved to handle all TCP/IP throughput, F5 is currently concentrating solely on Web traffic, a capability that came to the company via its 2005 acquisition of Swan Labs. Those with broader needs are out of luck until F5 adds the capability to handle other traffic—something it certainly will do eventually.

Still, competitors shouldn't rest on their momentary advantage—F5 has a history of being a little late to market, but when it arrives its products are well conceived and engineered. Consider its transition from server and global load balancing to full AFE capabilities: It trailed rivals as it created its TMOS operating system, yet today it's the dominant player in that market.

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