In an effort to support virtualization and cloud computing, F5 Networks is consolidating multiple application delivery networking services onto a single device.
BIG-IP v10, available today, combines F5's BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM), BIG-IP WebAccelerator and BIG-IP Application Security Manager (ASM) onto a single piece of hardware, the new BIG-IP 8900.
Erik Giesa, vice president of product management and marketing for F5, said these new devices work at both the application layer and the networking layer to optimize, secure and accelerate applications irrespective of whether they are delivered over the local-area network (LAN) or the wide-area network (WAN).
The technology creates a single network fabric that is "context-aware," Giesa said. By this, he means BIG-IP v10 will consider the user, device, location, network condition and application requirements in a given scenario and make adjustments at Layer 3 within data center infrastructure to make sure the application is delivered optimally. BIG-IP can also adjust on the fly to the delivery model of the application, whether it is hosted on a virtualized server infrastructure or delivered via Software as a Service (SaaS).
F5 customers who in the past have deployed separate BIG-IP boxes to manage each application will now be able to support multiple applications on a single box.
"IT staffs exist in silos where different applications are handled by different application delivery controllers," Giesa said. "This creates a lot of overhead. BIG-IP v10 is able to run multiple services on a single device. You can put all the applications on one application delivery controller."
"This is about the integration and consolidation of services on a common network device," he said. "There is a debate over the value of Layer 3 versus Layer 7 services. Why do you have to choose?"
Giesa said the consolidation of services on one box will reduce the amount of management overhead that IT organizations will have to deal with in delivering applications, while saving on power and cooling. This consolidation will also create an integrated application delivery fabric that will simplify the management of virtualized applications and cloud computing.
"The virtualization and the consolidation of multiple boxes onto one platform is definitely the approach we would like to see," said Randy Paxton, lead network engineer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, an F5 customer that currently uses the previous version of F5's technology, BIG-IP v9. "Like any organization, we're trying to do more with less. If we can lower administrative effort, that's really going to help us out a lot." F5's ability to manage application delivery at Layers 3 and 7 will also give enterprises more control over virtualized server environments, Giesa said.
Jon Oltsik, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, said that this integration of virtualization awareness into its core load balancing capabilities is "fairly unique in the industry."
"Big-IP allows people to marry applications, networking and virtualization," Oltsik said. "That's a pretty difficulty thing to do. Right now the virtualization layer has no idea about the external network or the application, so BIG-IP can play a middleman role because it understands Layer 2 and 3 stuff, and it understands up to Layer 7. It also has visibility into what's happening at the virtualization layer."
This visibility is important for enterprises that are trying to use virtualization for more than just server consolidation. Many IT organizations are exploring ways to deliver network, storage and computing capacity as services that support applications. This requires the ability to move virtual machines across the data center infrastructure, which in turn requires better visibility into the virtualization layer in the data center.
"In a virtualized data center and cloud computing, the network layer needs to understand what's happening at the server virtualization layer and then provide the appropriate services based on the particular needs of the virtual machine," Oltsik said. "[F5] is now much more virtualization aware. They can do things across data centers and within a data center that really complement where the data center is going."
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