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F5 ignites competition with updated FirePass VPN

Experts say F5's VPN portfolio expansion proves it can serve companies of all sizes in today's fiercely competitive market, while also bracing for a consolidation that could alter the vendor landscape.

F5 Networks Inc. is reaching high and low to meet customer needs.

Today, the Seattle-based VPN vendor released its latest high-end secure remote access product for companies, and a new low-end SSL VPN that promises enterprise performance in a product priced for businesses with smaller budgets.

One of the reasons why the SMB space by and large has not gone with a remote access VPN solution to date is because there just wasn't a cost-effective solution.
Robert Whiteley
associate analyst

The new version of F5's SSL VPN, FirePass Controller 5.4, addresses the expanding application access requirements of enterprise organizations with improved end-point security and policy management.

FirePass Controller is segmented according to concurrent user volume:

  • The FirePass 4100 family of products is designed for large-scale businesses, ranging from 1,000 to 10,000-plus employees, as each appliance can support 250 to 2,000 users. These appliances can be clustered together to support several thousands of users concurrently.

  • FirePass 1000 supports up to 100 users concurrently and is designed for medium-sized businesses with 150 to 1,000 employees.

  • The new FirePass 600 controller can handle up to 25 concurrent sessions and offers simplified functionality for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with up to several hundred employees while providing the same secure remote access employed by large global organizations.

    Robert Whiteley, an associate analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said it was necessary for F5 to expand into the SMB space for two primary reasons: to compete in the vendor feature function war and to meet the growing VPN demand among small businesses.

    "One of the reasons why the SMB space by and large has not gone with a remote access VPN solution to date is because there just wasn't a cost-effective solution and it didn't make sense given the lower employee counts," Whiteley said. He added that Forrester has found that demand for SSL VPNs among small businesses is now rivaling the enterprise market.

    F5 is not the first vendor to offer a SSL VPN to the SMB market. In mid-2004, Juniper Networks Inc. unveiled an SMB-focused Netscreen Remote Access 500 SSL VPN, and backed it up a few weeks later with a new initiative to improve the security of its SSL VPN offering. Aventail Corp. followed suit with its EX-750 SMB SSL VPN product shortly thereafter.

    FirePass Controller features a 30-minute installation process, which, according to Whiteley, was extensively researched and differentiates the product in the industry.

    "The FirePass [Controller] has a built-in load balancer, and this begins to carve it out as a really high-end product," Whiteley said. Comparable Juniper and Aventail products require an external load balancer to scale akin to FirePass out of the box.

    Added Whiteley: "I think that Juniper and Aventail are battling for the mid-end, and it's a smart move on behalf of FirePass to concentrate where there aren't many platforms to compete in."

    FirePass 600 Series products are available now, with prices set at $3,995 for 10 concurrent users and $5,495 for 25 concurrent users. A 15-concurrent user upgrade option is available for $1,995.

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    A free software upgrade to version 5.4 is available to all existing FirePass customers. FirePass 4100 and 4000 customers can purchase a 1,000-concurrent user license add-on to increase their current concurrent user capacity to a larger limit. Existing F5 customers with current maintenance agreements and hardware platforms can take advantage of all the capabilities in the new release of the FirePass product.

    Whiteley said he expects F5 to move up in the market share ranks to challenge Aventail, Juniper and Whale Communications Ltd., but only because the industry is on the brink of a consolidation phase.

    "As these companies begin to consolidate, you want to find ways to differentiate yourself to stay ahead of the curve," Whiteley said. "I'm not sure we'll see F5 jump two or three spots up in the ranking, but I do think it will help them continue allowing the growth structure as everyone else."

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