Network acceleration vendor F5's recent purchase of LineRate Systems, a startup specializing in software-defined networking technology, is both a near-term attempt to associate itself with a hot industry technology and a canny look ahead to the future, according to experts.
The deal, announced on Monday, saw F5 acquire the young Colorado-based startup for an undisclosed price a little more than 10 months after LineRate's first product - an all-software proxy and traffic management suite - was released.
LineRate's primary focus on SDN, which proponents say will simplify networking by letting customers more easily control network traffic and allow the development of new applications like network virtualization, makes it a good pickup for F5. According to Enterprise Management Associates managing research director Jim Frey, as a data center hardware company, F5 has much to gain by getting involved with SDN technology quickly - and much to lose if it ignores the trend.
"Certainly, F5 can now check the SDN box. There is an intriguing potential future role for ADCs in the SDN world - most likely as SDN applications but quite possibly as federated controllers themselves," he says. "This acquisition does put F5 in position to go either way."
A federated controller is a carefully coordinated system of individual controller appliances, used to add scale and reliability to particularly large networks, he explains. (An in-depth technical explanation of the concept is available here, in the form of an IETF draft standard.)
IDC vice president and network management expert Rohit Mehra says the hardware company has had an eye on SDN for some time.
"F5, like some of the other players in the data center networking space, have been quite aware of landscape evolving quickly when it comes to SDN."
However, he cautions, F5 shouldn't expect to make any kind of immediate quantum leap as a result of the acquisition.
"It's not a next-week thing - in some ways, it's not even a next year thing, although I'm sure next year we'll see some benefits start to come out of the IP they will get out of LineRate - but I think if you start to take a three-to-five-year horizon, some of the benefits become [easier to see,]" he says.
According to Mehra, the switch-and-router companies like Cisco, Brocade and Juniper that have dominated the SDN market thus far will continue to do so for the foreseeable future - but the technology is prevalent enough and important enough to the data center that pretty much everyone doing business in the space, F5 included, can benefit from some expertise.
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