Coupled with Next-Gen BIG-IP Software, New Line of F5 Hardware Builds the Bridge to a Distributed Cloud World

Arul Elumalai Miniatura
Arul Elumalai
Published February 24, 2022

It’s no surprise that organizations continue to modernize their applications to better deliver seamless digital experiences for customers. As digitization continues to accelerate across industries, more organizations than ever—an estimated 88%—are operating a mixed estate of both modern (i.e., container/cloud-native) and traditional (i.e., monolithic, 3-tier, and client-server) applications. Because traditional applications were developed over the last several decades to address the IT enablement needs of the business, they typically enable the most mission-critical processes within an organization. While they are often brittle and outdated from a security perspective, they no longer have to be constrained in delivering the benefits that modern architectures provide. By fronting these applications with robust application security and delivery solutions, technology leaders can compensate for performance and security gaps with minimal refactoring.

Building a Technology Landscape with the Future in Mind

While cloud adoption has undoubtedly accelerated in recent years, the top-level numbers obscure new dynamics that point to a hybrid future. Astute decision-makers are increasingly leveraging a mix of cloud and self-managed environments to deliver a more tailored and reliable experience to their end users. In some cases, technology service providers are repatriating applications from the public cloud to self-managed environments as needed.

As traditional applications are modernized and migrated across locations, organizations of all types, sizes, and geographies are best positioned by deploying application security and delivery solutions that offer maximum flexibility as their applications transform. Flexibility should be considered on multiple dimensions—whether that’s via form factors (i.e., systems, virtual appliances, container-native functions, SaaS), deployment models (i.e., on-premises, public clouds, edge) or consumption models (i.e., perpetual, subscription, utility). Modern IT strategies must account for current application traffic patterns and security demands while also accommodating future application migrations and modernization.

In addition to building flexible application architectures, the recent pandemic has taught every organization to be prepared for increasing application and infrastructure demands at a scale that is unprecedented, and often unpredictable. In the last two years, most organizations have navigated a combination of unforeseen critical security threats, unparalleled spikes in application access, and business demands to stand up customer-facing digital services at an extremely rapid pace. Business and IT leaders no longer have the luxury of building technology strategies to catch up to the past—or even to cater to the status quo. They must build adaptive architectures and application portfolios that can quickly and appropriately respond to whatever comes next, and this adaptive solution approach should also work for legacy application architectures.

F5’s next-gen systems and BIG-IP software enable traditional applications to continue powering the digital experiences of the future.  

Announcing a New Line of F5 Systems

As enterprise customers increasingly adopt hybrid cloud, multi-cloud, and distributed cloud environments, hardware-based solutions will continue to play an essential role for certain classes of applications in automating app deployments at scale and ensuring reliable performance and robust security controls. Hardware deployments aren’t going away any time soon; they will remain an important component of most large organizations’ technology landscape. F5’s hardware systems have powered mission-critical applications for large enterprise customers, service providers, and government agencies across the globe for more than two decades. Demand on those mission-critical applications isn’t abating—and, in many cases, is greater than ever before.

To best support a distributed cloud future, we have designed and developed a new generation of hardware platforms that natively incorporate cloud-like architectural paradigms. For our product teams, this meant reimagining F5 hardware to be geared for fully-automated deployments and programmatic responses to changing conditions—from new cyberattacks, to usage spikes, to application performance degradations, and everything in between. And, more importantly, with the objective to create seamless on-ramps from physical, to virtual, to cloud, or edge environments as the need arises.

With that in mind, we announced last week—at F5’s annual customer and partner conference, Agility 2022—the launch of F5’s fully rearchitected hardware platforms, the F5 VELOS chassis and F5 rSeries appliances.

These modern, next-gen platforms represent much more than a traditional hardware refresh. What is resonating most with our earliest customers is not only the improved performance and deployment ease, but the enhanced automation capabilities. Our systems have been redesigned with a fully automatable, API-first architecture to dramatically increase the speed of deployments, rapidly scale capacity to meet growing application demands, and instantaneously roll out security features when the threat landscape changes. As one example, a large service provider in Austria was experiencing performance issues with a solution that was supporting their ~1,800 services including billing, purchasing, and TV services. If the solution went down, customers were unable to purchase a phone, pay their bill, or watch TV, resulting in a poor experience for their customers and lost revenue for the company. They needed higher performance and a flexible environment to scale their services on demand. F5 VELOS was able to meet both their current and future growth requirements with the ability to scale up and down—so they would no longer have to worry about peak usage times or service downtime.

And with a new Kubernetes-based platform layer, F5’s next-gen systems now include built-in multi-tenancy. Customers can enable leading BIG-IP application security and delivery services at scale with the added ability of running current and future versions of BIG-IP software as “tenants” on the same physical system. With both new and existing software architectures now running side by side on VELOS, and on rSeries later this year, customers can de-risk upgrades by deploying newer versions of BIG-IP software alongside current versions and migrating application instances over time, all with minimal application downtime.

This is only the beginning. We’ve engineered our next-gen systems to be durable platforms for ongoing innovation and delivery of new capabilities aligned with the benefits of adaptive applications.

Announcing Early Access to BIG-IP Next, our Next-Gen BIG-IP Software

The innovation, however, doesn’t stop at the hardware or platform software layers but extends into our next-gen BIG-IP software as well. Last week we announced Early Access to this next-gen BIG-IP software—called BIG-IP Next—a modern, modularized version of the familiar application security and delivery software our customers rely on. We understand that application demands and security threats will continue to quickly evolve. Our approach is to reduce the operational burden for our customers to respond and stay ahead of this constant change by refactoring BIG-IP’s monolithic software and decomposing it into containerized services that plug, play, and scale independently.

BIG-IP Next incorporates many BIG-IP capabilities that customers have come to know and love, including a high-performance data plane, high availability deployment modes, rich protocol support, advanced security functions, and, of course, iRules. In addition, customers are likely to see significant improvements with our modern software offering.

First, BIG-IP Next dramatically simplifies automation tasks via declarative APIs. The highly performant, declarative APIs simplify and accelerate application deployments and app services insertion within dynamic environments. Second, the rearchitected control plane with adjustable resource allocation delivers material improvements in scalability and support for resource-intensive workloads and proliferation of configuration objects. Third, because of the modularized architecture, it is now faster and easier to perform updates and rollbacks on a component-by-component basis to dramatically minimize or even eliminate downtime when patching components that are not in the data path.

In addition to delivering these immediate benefits, our next-gen software is built for reuse across F5 systems, industry-leading hypervisors, and native Kubernetes clusters. This design ensures that our customers have the choice of physical and virtual appliances while still maintaining a consistent experience as they move from one form factor to another—without retooling or rehashing their operating model. With the capabilities of BIG-IP Next rearchitected as container-native functions, they are well positioned to be consumed as SaaS as our roadmap evolves. Many customers are already benefiting from reusable elements of the new architecture. For example, our F5 signature-based WAF engine is powering BIG-IP Advanced WAF, NGINX App Protect, Silverline WAF, and the WAF that’s been available alongside Volterra systems. It’s all the same WAF engine. As another example, we’re refactoring some of the BIG-IP software’s critical security functions like CGNAT and Advanced Firewall Manager into Cloud-Native Network Functions (CNFs). These are true cloud-native form factors that can be deployed by service providers in native Kubernetes environments.

Leveraging the multi-tenancy capabilities of our next-gen systems, our customers can now trial BIG-IP Next by deploying it side by side with the current generation and migrating applications at their own pace.

The Road Ahead: Building Solutions that Bring Adaptive Applications to Life

Informed by our vision for adaptive applications, we are more committed than ever to supporting both traditional and modern applications by unifying our F5 product portfolio and driving a set of consistent and integrated experiences for our customers. These new F5 systems and BIG-IP software offerings are another testament to this vision as we invest in building solutions that empower customers to manage, modernize, secure, automate, and deploy their applications—whether traditional or modern—across any environment. As shared at our Agility conference last week, we’ll continue to accomplish this via the four guiding principles of F5’s technology roadmap:

  • First, we are building a best-in-class portfolio of application security and delivery SaaS offerings, delivered on a common platform for SaaS and managed services. BIG-IP Next’s container-native functions can be deployed in any environment and eventually consumed as SaaS on the F5 Distributed Cloud Platform. Our F5 Distributed Cloud WAAP offering, announced last week, is the first example of how we’re making our best capabilities available as SaaS to empower customers with a consistent set of application security and delivery capabilities—regardless of how they choose to consume them.
  • Second, we are using telemetry and analytics to generate actionable insights and drive closed-looped automation, with an architecture that gives customers the flexibility to leverage F5’s management, analytics, and visibility tools, or use their own. While telemetry streaming is already available to BIG-IP customers through F5’s Automation Toolchain, we are investing in instrumentation at the software and systems level across all F5 product offerings. As described in our vision for adaptive applications, collection and analysis of this data unlocks meaningful improvements in application performance, resilience, and security.
  • Third, we are simplifying automation and ecosystem integrations via common APIs—meaning they are shared across product families and layers of our stack—that are also versioned and declarative. BIG-IP Next software and F5 systems leverage an API-first approach to deliver enhanced automation.
  • Finally, we are unifying our portfolio to reduce complexity and offer a more seamless customer experience, including the buying experience, product telemetry standards, a single cloud-based data pipeline and analytics engine, a common SaaS capability for policy declaration and service management, and a common UI design framework and components. For example, we’ve already started integrating core security capabilities from Shape security into BIG-IP software releases; in addition, our next-gen systems now include a software abstraction layer equipped to run F5 offers beyond BIG-IP software. On the commercial side, our flexible consumption program encompasses a wide range of F5 products. As our roadmap evolves, we are continuing to drive the experiences of F5 VELOS, F5 rSeries appliances, and BIG-IP Next software to converge with the rest of F5’s portfolio.

If you want to add F5 VELOS or F5 rSeries to your portfolio this year or get a head start on exploring BIG-IP Next software, our team is here to help. Please contact F5 Sales for additional product and service availability information.