F5 Fires Up WAN Optimization

Company overhauls BIG-IP, looks to merge WAN optimization and Web acceleration

July 31, 2007

3 Min Read
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Networking specialist F5 cranked up its WAN optimization story today, unveiling an upgrade to its flagship BIG-IP product that could lay the foundations of a broader storage strategy. (See F5 Delivers WebAccelerator and F5 Hits Accelerator.)

F5 has traditionally been associated with Application Front End (AFE) technology, which is also sold by the likes of Cisco and Citrix. AFEs are appliances that offload networking and I/O processes from Web servers in an attempt to boost the performance of Internet applications.

AFE technology is typically deployed in an "asymmetric" fashion, meaning that users need only deploy one device at their central site in order to speed up Web traffic going to remote locations.

F5 is now looking to extend its reach into the WAN optimization space, where vendors such as Riverbed and Silver Peak offer "symmetric" systems, which require devices to be deployed in both central and remote sites.

Built on technology acquired when F5 bought Swan Labs two years ago, F5 today unveiled the WebAccelerator software module for its BIG-IP system, which enables users to deploy its technology at both ends of an Internet link. (See F5 to Acquire Swan Labs, F5 Completes Swan Buy, and WAFS Goes Into Orbital.) "We want to offer users the ability to not be locked into one technology for acceleration," says Joe Hicks, F5's product manager for Web acceleration.By offering a symmetric version of its technology, F5 claims to offer a 200- to 1000-percent performance boost for Web applications, which could be critical for firms with operations on both sides of the Atlantic, according to Hicks. "Delays can be up to 40 seconds for applications such as Sharepoint, Siebel or SAP portal."

BIG-IP is aimed at Web traffic, whereas vendors such as Riverbed and Blue Coat focus on storage networking protocols such as CIFS and NFS, Hicks observes.

Riverbed and Blue Coat also handle HTTP traffic in addition to the likes of CIFS and NFS, underlining the current shift toward WAN optimization and Web acceleration combos.

In the networking arena, F5 offers its symmetric WANJet product for CIFS data, but it seems likely that this technology will converge with BIG-IP. (See F5 Intros WANJet and Swan Labs, Enterweb Team Up.) Hicks would not reveal any roadmap specifics to Byte and Switch, but it seems clear that, by adding symmetric capabilities to BIG-IP, the vendor will eventually provide support for both CIFS and Web traffic on a single platform. "We're looking to give customers freedom of choice," says Hicks, somewhat vaguely.

But Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) analyst Jon Oltsik feels that F5's intentions are clear. "The goal is to move this beyond Web traffic and get much more protocol specific," he says. "The more knowledgeable the box is, the more valuable it is."As part of this effort, F5 also added the ability to accelerate Web content via SSL. "Were allowing customers and organizations to be able to deploy acceleration symmetrically and securely," says Hicks.

Available in the third quarter, WebAccelerator will be sold as a software module for BIG-IP, priced at $14,995. It will also be available as a standalone F5 4500 appliance, priced at $39,995.

— James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • Blue Coat Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BCSI)

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • Citrix Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CTXS)

  • Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG)

  • F5 Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FFIV)

  • Riverbed Technology Inc.

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