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F5 Expands SDN Capabilities WIth LineRate Acquisition

Jeffrey Burt is a senior editor for eWEEK and contributor to TechWeekEurope

F5 is looking to move up from the connectivity level to focus on the application layer of software-defined networks

F5 Networks became the latest technology vendor to acquire a company to push forward its software-defined networking ambitions, buying LineRate Systems on 11 February for its SDN services.

F5, a key player in the application delivery controller market, is eyeing the fast-growing SDN market from the Layer 4-7 perspective, where services like security, acceleration, optimisation and traffic management live.

Application layer

Up to now, most of the attention in SDN has been at the connectivity level, where established companies like Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Juniper Networks are competing with such startups as Big Switch Networks and Plexxi, and where protocols like OpenFlow are debated.

NetworkLess attention has been paid to the application layer. Not only is F5 making its play in that part of the SDN space, but others, such as Embrane, also are focusing there.

In a recent interview with eWEEK, Embrane chief executive Dante Malagrino, a former Cisco executive, said that as the SDN trend continues, the role of services to run on these networks will become more important, and that he anticipates other SDN vendors will start moving up the stack to the application layer.

Lori MacVittie, senior technical marketing manager at F5, agreed.

“As SDN matures, its focus will continue to move up the network stack, toward the application layers,” MacVittie wrote in an 11 February post on the F5 blog. “The programmable, scalable services at the application layer comprising the Application Services Fabric are necessary to fully realise the benefits of SDN and software-defined data centres, particularly in environments where network function virtualisation [NFV] is adopted as a strategy to achieve maximum agility. Network function virtualisation requires not only the improved performance of today’s modern x86 hardware platforms, but software capable of scaling on demand while maintaining optimal performance and offering a high-degree of programmability for superior software defined control over the network.”

Flexibility and scalability

Application-layer SDN services will bring greater agility, flexibility, scalability and programmability to SDNs, and will help businesses gain the benefits of the larger software-defined data centres, Jason Needham, vice president of product management and marketing, told eWEEK.

“This is a technology acquisition,” Needham said. “We expect to deliver broad value to our customers.”

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

SDNs are designed to take much of the tasks found in networking hardware, particularly in switches and hardware, and centralise them in software-based controllers.

SDNs are generating a lot of interest among organisations and tech vendors alike. IDC analysts predict that revenues in the market could hit $360 million (£230m) this year and grow to $3.7 billion by 2016.

Acquisitions

It’s also driving some vendors to build up their capabilities via acquisitions or investments. VMware in 2012 nabbed Nicira for $1.26 billion, followed closely by Oracle buying Xsigo.

Brocade bought Vyatta, and last week Intel invested $6.5 million in Big Switch Networks.

F5’s Needham and Andrew Stern, vice president of corporate development, said the acquisition of LineRate Systems dovetails with the direction F5 has been going for the past couple of years in creating an application control plane architecture, which kicked off in 2011 with the release of version 11 of its Big-IP offering.

F5 also has been adding support for network virtualisation environments, they said. “This is just a continuation of that theme,” Needham said.

LineRate’s SDN services are based on its LineRate Operating System (LROS), and the company offers LineRate Proxy, a suite of network services.

Neither Needham nor Stern would elaborate on product plans, though Needham did say that the acquisitions not only would result in enhancements to F5’s current products, but also in new offerings down the road.

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Originally published on eWeek.