F5 execs: We're blasting virtualization beyond Layer 3

F5's Synthesis Architecture aims to virtualize networking functions in Layers 4-7

Cisco wasn't the only networking company making big virtualization news last week with the debut of its Insieme product line and ACI (Application Centric Infrastructure) strategy aimed at virtualizing the data center. F5 Networks, in addition to announcing that it will work hand-in-hand with Cisco on ACI integration, launched its own Synthesis Architecture for Software-Defined Application Services, which aims to virtualize networking functions above Layers 2/3. 

In this interview with IDG Communications Chief Content Officer John Gallant, F5 CEO John McAdam and Manuel Rivelo, executive vice president of strategic solutions, talked about how Synthesis promises to speed application rollouts and simplify deployment of other Layer 4-7 services, even if customers haven't committed to SDN (software-defined networking). They also discussed their VMware and Cisco partnerships, which you can read about in the second part of this interview here

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I want to start off with the Synthesis announcement. What are the goals behind Synthesis, and why did you undertake this?

Rivelo: When we talk to our customers, what we're seeing is there's a need for a much more dynamic, agile, flexible environment -- an environment where applications can be deployed at a push of a button. There's been a lot of work done over the last decade around virtualizing the application space, virtualizing storage, virtualizing compute. But there's been almost no work around virtualization of the network. That work has started with things like SDN now, but what the customers have been telling us is that there's zero work being done in Layer 4 through Layer 7 and the virtualization of those services. To complete that vision of that flexible, software-defined data center, services also need to be provisioned that way. That's the space that we're targeting. It is the consolidation of Layer 4-7 services, helping customers move away from managing devices. And what I mean by that is a firewall and a load balancer, a point device, a physical piece of hardware, if you will, and instead managing services that enhance that user-to-application experience. So that's the premise.

John, why is this strategically important for F5?

McAdam: When we talk to customers, a lot of them are aware that there still is some work to do to actually deliver something as elastic as this. But as we've been developing point products like TMOS and iRules and BIG-IQ -- that's our orchestration automation system -- we've also been integrating the whole thing around a complete value proposition. We can now offer that capability to the customer, that concept of being able to quickly deploy apps wherever, whether it's in a cloud, whether it's across global data centers, and secure them at the same time. We can actually do that now. It just fits so well with the fact that that's what the customers are looking for.

Orchestration is critical, so the BIG-IQ product was a critical stepping stone to that. We've also been introducing simplified business models and licensing as well, which is very much associated with the whole concept.

Which is one of the things I want to talk to you about as we go further along here. I read a piece that Zeus Kerravala did for Network World in which he said, "The easiest way to think about Synthesis is to consider it a Layer 4-7 overlay fabric that sits on top of the software-defined network fabric." Is that an accurate description?

Rivelo: Yeah, that's perfect. We couldn't have asked for a more accurate article written.

So tell me -- I'm an IT leader: What does this allow me to do in the data center that I can't do today? Boil it down for people.

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