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GestaltIT TechFieldDay Seattle - F5

Posted on Monday, July 19, 2010 | 1 Comment

A big vendor in the networking and Internet market is F5. We visited them on the Gestalt IT TechFieldDay Seattle.

As you can see the room was full of people.


Kirby Wadsworth (VP of Global Marketing) did a who F5 are and what they do. F5 see themselves as the strategic point of control in your data center architecture optimising the relationships between users and the applications and the data that they need.

F5 have 44% of the general application controller delivery market which includes things such as load balancing and some minor layer 2 to 7 functions. In the advanced market where you go beyond layer 4 load balancing and taking advantage of caching, rate shaping and other elements the share in higher.

F5 have a broad set of products most of which a run from their BigIP, which is the hardware platform. The BigIP runs the TMOS OS. These products plugin or layer onto TMOS. The core business is certainly around Local Traffic Manager, where connections are balanced across servers. Global traffic manager does this across data centers. There are many products in the range :
  • Local Traffic Manager (LTM)
  • Global Traffic Manager (GTM)
  • Link Controller (LC)
  • Application Security Manager (ASM)
  • WebAccelerator (WA)
  • Edge Gateway
  • WAN Optimization Module (WOM)
  • Access Policy Manager (APM)
To me one of the most exciting things is that earlier this year F5 released a virtual edition of their Big-IP Local Traffic Manager. The LTM is a great device to run as a virtual machine and thankfully its not limited in terms of features. Great to see vendors starting to deliver choice to customers in how they would like to run vendors software! F5 did not make much of a deal about this, especially considering there were some virtualisation people attending. However there is probably not much you can say about it.

Long Distance VMotion

Next we had a demonstration of long distance VMotion. A really interesting part of this was that they use vOrchestrator to control the Big-IPs and the VMware tasks. It was great to see automation being done through Orchestrator workflows. It also shows the power of what you can do with F5 products when you start to pull multiple together and automate them.

I have seen this before at VMworld and its a little difficult to describe it in great detail. If you are interested in it seek out F5 at VMworld or look for the videos of the event which will come online at GestaltIT later. There are multiple elements at work including adjusting the load balancing pools, performing layer 2 over layer 3 tunnels and acceleration of traffic, which is what makes the storage VMotion work in a much faster and more reliable way. The workflow did some nice things such as when starting, first waiting for the number of connections to the server being moved to clear after it had been removed from the balancing pool.


Next we had Joe Pruitt (Sr. Strategic Architect, @joepruitt) do a great talk on automation and control through the APIs of F5 technologies. They were very early to support SOAP and cover a lot of languages as you can see below.

We looked at what the APIs covered, which is just about everything you could ever imagine doing. A number of examples were walked through which shows both the simplicity alongside the power of what you can achieve. They are split between iControl which covers all of the admin style process and iRule which is the rules for the traffic.

My only issue was that the code examples were not quite real as they contained comments, who comments their code in the real world!

Joe was one of the most enthusiastic presenters across the two days and his passion and joy for the technology really showed, it was great!

Remote Access

We then had a demo of joining some of the F5 products together to provide a bigger and more complex solution, being a global deployment of accelerated remote access. Using the global traffic director they could detect where the user was accessing from, align then with the appropriate entry point into the network (such as the local country) and then accelerate the resulting traffic. Its was good example of if you tie all these things together you can do much more.


Next was looking at some storage technologies, being ARX. Data is growing and file servers need to become building blocks where you can have policies to place data. ARX does this through open standards, being NFS and CIFS. The ARX is a device that acts as an enterprise class proxy file system. The diagram shown shows the structure.

You can take any storage you want with the characteristics you want and then use policies to move the data around those as required. This is achieved by placing the ARX device in front as a proxy. The ARX appliance looks like a standard client to the lower tiers so will work with many storage systems. The example included Cloud storage but in my opinion this was a little bit of Cloudwashing. Sure the use case was there but it relied on you using a Cloud provider who presented CIFS/NFS locally to your site, its not that the ARX could transpose its requests to talk to a Cloud based service (such as S3) directly. It was not an invalid example, but it does rely on a specific bit of technology that is not part of ARX.

The way ARX works is to place out a namespace across all of your tiers, tracks which bit of data (file) is where, route/proxy the requests accordingly and move the data around the tiers as required. The databases for routing the requests in real time is a non-trivial problem to solve according to F5, their namespace can contain a billion objects.

Curtis Preston discussed the issues around backup and restore with the way the data was laid out. The tiers supporting ARX is where you will probably need to backup and it does not have all the knowledge. Backup is probably going to be okay but restore is going to be hard and its not fully baked. If you need to restore something you are going to have to go and ask the ARX where to put the restored file or where was it previously so you can go and find it in your backup set.

F5 think the difference with ARX is that you can use multi-vendors on the backend and you are not having execute do a stub based solution like some of the alternative technologies.

An interesting last thought on this was the prediction that in a year data traffic management will be better understood, data will be considered another piece of traffic and managed accordingly.


F5 have a well kitted lab with lots of their equipment along with specialist device such as networking emulation and testing devices. People enjoyed getting back into a server room after a long day.


F5 did a good job, they had some demos and the right technical people presenting who knew their stuff. There might have been a few too many F5 staff filling the room but when TechFieldDay is in the building no one once to miss out right!

The core F5 technology is good and mature, this came through in the earlier presentations. You also got to see how the different products could be combined together. The interesting part was the ARX. I am sure it is a difficult problem to solve at the scales they discussed. However my feeling was it could do with its own interface into some Cloud APIs, maybe they are waiting for further standardisation. The backup and restore is a realistic problem and people will want to have resolved how they might handle it in their environment. Because they are integrating with the tiers as a client the ability to leverage any great features of those Tiers is abstracted or lost (but could be handled directly at that tear). I wonder if there would be any advantage for the ARX to be aware of certain elements to optimise its use of a particular Tiers vendor implementation, for example if its doing proxy for a DataDomain device it may use a more efficient method or interface (not having a good example for what one might be). The ARX from what I could see only added the large name space and tiering to the market. I am sure its not an inexpensive solution but I wonder if its need some more tricks up its sleeve than those two to get some key adoption. Certainly something to keep an eye on.

Thanks F5 for an interesting and fruitful few hours.


Note : Tech Field Day is a sponsored event. Although I receive no direct compensation and take personal leave to attend, all event expenses are paid by the sponsors through Gestalt IT Media LLC. No editorial control is exerted over me and I write what I want, if I want, when I want and how I want.


  1. Anonymous2:56 am

    Thanks for visiting us at F5 last week, we all had a great time!

    Joe Pruitt


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