F5 Networks Explained

Company Name:F5 Networks, Inc.
Company Type:Public (NASDAQ)
Foundation:1996
Industry:Technology
Market Cap:$2.81 billion USD (2008)
Revenue:$653 million USD (2009)[1]
Num Employees:1646 (2009)
Location:Seattle, Washington
Key People:CEO: John McAdam
Products:Networking
Homepage:www.f5.com

F5 Networks, Inc. (NASDAQ:FFIV) is a networking appliances company. It is headquartered in Seattle, Washington and has development and marketing offices worldwide. It originally manufactured and sold some of the very first load balancing products. In 2010, F5 Networks featured in Fortune's 100 Fastest-Growing Companies list[2] .

F5 Networks' flagship product, the BIG-IP network appliance, was originally a network load balancer but today also offers other functionality such as access control and application security. Add-on modules to F5's BIG-IP family of products offer email filtering and intelligent compression to allow for lower bandwidth and faster downloads in addition to load balancing and local traffic management capabilities.

F5 offers products in various segments of the Application Delivery Controller market. According to Gartner, F5 has "a continued market-leading position"[3] in the Application Delivery Controller market. Gartner cites the most significant competitors (in terms of market share) as Cisco Systems and Citrix Systems. Other competitors include A10 Networks, Armorlogic, Array Networks, Barracuda Networks, Brocade, Coyote Point Systems, Crescendo Networks, KEMP Technologies, Radware and Zeus Technology.

Corporate history

F5 Networks, originally named F5 Labs[4], was founded in 1996[1] . F5's first product was a load balancer called BIG-IP. If a server went down or became overloaded, BIG-IP directed traffic away from that server to other servers that could handle the load. In 1999 the company went public and was listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange (NASDAQ: FFIV). Corporate focus is on network intelligence. In 2004, 80% of the F5 business was with Fortune 500 companies.

Using internal development and acquisitions the company extended its reach beyond load balancing, producing a range of products for Application Delivery Networking. These products seek to improve the delivery of the applications by attempting to make them run faster and more securely.

Acquisitions

Products

BIG-IP

F5's BIG-IP product is based on a network appliance (either virtual or physical), which runs F5's Traffic Management Operating System (TMOS), which runs on top of Linux. This appliance can then run one or more product modules (depending on the appliance selected), which provide the BIG-IP functionality.

BIG-IP Appliances

The current line of BIG-IP appliance was released between 2008 and 2010, and the hardware models internally use a single custom-fabricated system board. The previous platforms had two internal boards - a PC/server-type motherboard connected to a switchplane. Some models include hardware SSL acceleration for key exchanges and bulk encryption/decryption provided by Cavium Networks, and hardware compression assistance. The current hardware line-up uses Intel CPUs, but some previous models have included AMD Opteron CPUs. Hardware models include a front LCD panel for configuration and monitoring and a separate service processor for out-of-band management.

The Viprion is chassis/blade based hardware. It is a chassis which can hold up to 4 blades for enhanced redundancy and performance using clustered multiprocessing.

Following the 2009 release of Citrix Systems' NetScaler VPX virtualised load balancer as a XenServer virtual appliance and criticism from Gartner regarding F5's lack of "SoftADC" development[3], in early 2010 F5 released a BIG-IP LTM virtual appliance for VMware.

The full model line-up is as follows[9], with approximate best-case throughput indicated:

ModelAdvertised throughput
BIG-IP LTM Virtual Edition10 Mbit/s, 200 Mbit/s or 1 Gbit/s
BIG-IP 16001 Gbit/s
BIG-IP 36002 Gbit/s
BIG-IP 39004 Gbit/s
BIG-IP 69006 Gbit/s
BIG-IP 890012 Gbit/s
BIG-IP 895020 Gbit/s
BIG-IP 1105042 Gbit/s
Viprion 4400Up to 72 Gbit/s[10]
Viprion 2400Up to 160 Gbit/s L4 & Up to 72  Gbit/s L7. Per Blade Up to 40G L4 & Up to 20G L7

BIG-IP Product Modules

BIG-IP Software Development History

On September 7, 2004 F5 Networks released version 9.0 of the BIG-IP software in addition to a new collection of BIG-IP appliances on which customers could run said software. Version 9.0 was significantly different than the previous versions of BIG-IP. The significant changes include:

On April 3, 2009, F5 Networks released version 10.0 of the BIG-IP software. BIG-IP v10 is a major release supporting the company goals of "Unified Application and Data Delivery Services". This is the company vision on how applications, servers, storage, and network resources are managed in an organization.

Version 10 of BIG-IP contained new features to reduce latency, remove congestion or other impediments. Application delivery is enhanced by features such as symmetric adaptive compression operates between any two BIG-IP appliances, providing the data reduction, optimization and acceleration found in WAN traffic optimization products.

BIG-IP Software Features

FirePass

The FirePass is an SSL VPN appliance and comes in the following models[11] :

ModelRecommended Concurrent Users
FirePass Virtual EditionUp to 2000
FirePass 1200100
FirePass 4100500
FirePass 43002000

Compared to a traditional IPsec VPN, FirePass and other competing SSL VPNs have the following differences:

ARX Series

The ARX series is a series of file virtualisation appliances that use technology F5 acquired through its acquisition of Acopia Networks. The devices work as proxies for CIFS and NFS, enabling administrators to control where files physically reside based on policies for age, file type, etc. whilst presenting users with a single target.

Enterprise Manager

The Enterprise Manager appliance optionally provides centralised management of multiple F5 BIG-IP devices.

Notes and References

  1. Web site: F5 Networks Form 10-K. 2010-08-17.
  2. News: 100 Fastest-growing companies. 2010-08-27. CNN.
  3. Web site: Magic Quadrant for Application Delivery Controllers. 2010-08-27.
  4. http://www.alacrastore.com/storecontent/Thomson_Venture_Economics/F5_Networks_Inc_AKA_F5_Labs_Inc-Y45115
  5. Web site: Quick Takes: F5 lassos uRoam. 2010-08-27.
  6. Web site: F5 snaps up MagniFire. 2010-08-27.
  7. Web site: F5 to acquire Swan Labs. 2010-08-27.
  8. Web site: F5 Networks Completes Acquisition of Acopia Networks. 2010-08-17.
  9. Web site: BIG-IP Hardware Data Sheet. 2010-08-17.
  10. Web site: VIPRION Data Sheet. 2010-08-17.
  11. Web site: FirePass Data Sheet. 2010-08-17.