Enterprises are not working with just physical network infrastructure anymore. As cloud and hybrid network environments become more mainstream, new use cases for traditional network appliances -- like application delivery controllers -- are emerging.
According to the 2012 Gartner application delivery controller (ADC) Magic Quadrant, the ADC market is extremely mature, but technology trends like virtualization, cloud and software-defined networking (SDN) are demanding innovation from vendors. Enterprises want new deployment options for ADCs, and they want to change how they provision and optimize applications.
"While this is not a small or emerging market, there is still quite a bit of innovation going on," said Joe Skorupa, research vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Research Inc. and lead author of the application delivery controller Magic Quadrant. "We are seeing increased capabilities from some of the vendors around virtualization, software capabilities and increased automation for provisioning and management of applications."
Gartner ADC Magic Quadrant: Cloud, virtualization could be game-changers
This year's application delivery controller Magic Quadrant revealed that enterprise requirements have long since expanded beyond simple load balancing functionality.
"As more users are migrating, the cloud is definitely changing the game in terms of how ADC vendors compete," said Tim Maliyil, founder and CEO of AlertBoot, a Las Vegas-based data encryption and security software provider.
Riverbed -- a visionary in this year's quadrant -- has updated its software-based Stingray ADC, which it acquired from Zeus Technology, for cloud networking, and it has integrated a recent acquisition of Aptimize for Web content optimization, Skorupa said.
Originally a customer of the Zeus ADCs, AlertBoot was involved in the beta testing of Riverbed’s Stingray Aptimizer offering, which helps optimize the delivery of Web content to mobile devices. "Our focus has been going more mobile and we are gaining more global customers. The technology has proven to be a great fit," said Alertboot's Maliyil.
Prior to deploying the ADC software, Alertboot's infrastructure resided in two data centers in Denver and in Boston. The company wanted to supplement its infrastructure with public cloud services. Having the right ADCs was an important element of building out a hybrid cloud. "We have used F5 hardware in the past, but with the public cloud, we needed to move to a software-based ADC that is reliable and could meet the demands that our customers put on our infrastructure," Maliyil said.
"Zeus, and now Riverbed, has offered quick innovation on this delivery tier that we haven't had before," Maliyil said.
Gartner ADC Magic Quadrant emphasizes deployment flexibility, SDN functionality
Despite a mature market with established leaders -- like F5 Networks, Citrix Systems and Radware -- some of the new cloud and SDN functionality being rolled in ADC technology may change the competitive landscape, as evidenced by F5 and Riverbed recently announcing application delivery support for Amazon Web Services, said said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at Westminster, Mass.-based ZK Research.
Niche player Brocade Communications has been focusing its ADC business on service providers, with an emphasis on performance and scale. It has also explored how ADCs can play in the SDN space, creating an opportunity for the vendor to make advances in a crowded market.
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Leaders F5 and Citrix technology continue to stand out in the application delivery controller Magic Quadrant because of their tight integration with enterprise application vendors, customization and programmability, Kerravala said.
F5's iRules allow IT to customize how application traffic is intercepted, inspected and directed inbound or outbound, and customization capabilities have been underestimated by competing vendors in this market.
"Once users have the ability to customize their applications, it's almost impossible to go without it," Kerravala said, noting that iRules for the management of IP traffic have kept F5 in the leader's quadrant.
"From a technology and execution standpoint, the leaders have really put some distance between themselves and the other players," Gartner's Skorupa said. "But it's a dynamic market, and next year the picture could be very different."
Cisco Systems, a niche player, will most likely be dropping out of the quadrant moving forward, as the company recently stopped developing its Application Control Engine (ACE) for application delivery. The vendor also announced a partnership with Magic Quadrant leader Citrix, giving Cisco customers a recommended alternative to ACE: Citrix NetScaler.
And while virtual ADC technology is expanding rapidly in virtualized data centers and cloud environments, customers still need hardware-based ADC technology.
"IT is moving to a hybrid model, and ADCs have to follow suit," he said. "Flexibility in deployment options is important."