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F5 Announces Enhanced VXLAN Support for Big-IP

F5 Networks today announced that forthcoming versions of its Big-IP application delivery controllers will support virtual tunneling endpoint capabilities in VXLAN, an IETF draft that aims to extend the mobility of virtual machines and facilitate scalable, multitenant network services. VXLAN is backed by VMware, Cisco and other vendors. F5's Big-IP product line, which already supports VXLAN, will offer this new functionality in the first half of 2013.

VXLAN is one of a host of emerging technologies (Mike Fratto counts 13 of them!) that aim to address limitations in Ethernet that constrain available network paths and hamper the expansion of highly virtualized, multitenant data center networks. VXLAN creates a network overlay at Layer 2 that lets data center operators create multiple, logically distinct segments that can run over the same physical resources. VXLAN segments ensure that only virtual machines within a designated segment can communicate with each other. According to F5, its VXLAN support means Big-IP can serve as a virtual endpoint gateway, which allows it to bridge VXLAN and non-VLXAN networks.

"The biggest area I see VXLAN playing a role is to address the needs of scale as data center deployments become larger, both intra-data center and inter-data center," says Rohit Mehra, director of Enterprise Communications Infrastructure at IDC. "As cloud providers add redundancy and scale out, there will be a need for technologies that provide capabilities for applications to make use of resources, such as compute and network resources, that span network and data center boundaries," he says. "VXLAN creates a tunnel so resources across the boundary seem like the same network."

Mehra adds that VXLAN might help promote the use of hybrid clouds, in which an enterprise's private cloud could tap into public cloud resources on demand.

VXLAN's most direct competitor is NVGRE, another IETF draft standard backed by Microsoft, HP, Dell and others. In September, F5 also announced that it would release an NVGRE-based Microsoft Network Virtualization gateway in 2013.

F5 touts its support for VXLAN as part of a broader software-defined network (SDN) strategy. However, the company says it doesn't officially support OpenFlow, an emerging standard that's closely associated with SDN. Other players in the application delivery controller market are also tying themselves to SDN. Case in point is Citrix Systems, which last week announced that a forthcoming version of its NetScaler product would take advantage of APIs to integrate with SDN controllers.

IDC's Mehra says a variety of technologies will make up the various pillars to support SDN. "What we are seeing is the gradual development of a full-blown SDN ecosystem, so L2 and L3 vendors will play a role, [as well as L4 through L7 vendors]. The control-layer solutions such as VXLAN and OpenFlow will play a role, and SDN applications that will enable network services will play a role."

F5 says the VXLAN virtual tunneling endpoint capability will be available as a free software upgrade for its hardware-based Big-IP platforms and its virtual editions running on VMware's vSphere. As mentioned, the company says the upgrade will be available sometime in the first half of 2013. F5 made the announcement at VMworld 2012 Europe, in Barcelona.