F5, VMware & Cisco: One happy family?

Key executives explain how the relationship is structured

At first blush, F5 Networks' new Synthesis Architecture for Software-Defined Application Services might appear to compete with new offerings from Cisco and VMware. But no, F5 CEO John McAdam and executive vice president of Strategic Solutions Manuel Rivelo tell IDG Communications Chief Content Officer John Gallant that F5 is very much in sync with these two datacentre giants (we did not, however, press them on the relationship between Cisco and VMware). 

Read on for more on how F5 is working with these vendors, and go here to get the F5 execs' take on Synthesis itself and the future of virtualization and software-defined networking

John, does Synthesis put you into competition with somebody like a VMware that has this vision of virtualizing the entire data center?

McAdam: No, it's actually the opposite, in fact. One of the reasons that we did the announcement with Cisco yesterday was because of the ability to take our fabric and overlay it, as per your original question, across the SDN solution. We do exactly the same with VMware. VMware and others have been waiting on this type of capability for quite a while. What we have that's unique is this access, the Layer 4/Layer 7, or really the actual application services level, and that's where all our value-add sits. So we would basically work in conjunction with the NSX solution. In fact, we're involved in their announcement as one of the key partners.

So, in terms of their entire vision of the software-defined data center, there aren't VMware components that would handle similar functions that you're addressing?

McAdam: We have a small load balancing capability, but that's about the only area that I would say is in any way significant. Most of the services that we have, including the TMOS proxy that actually creates those services, they don't have. So we see ourselves partnering with them all the time.

Rivelo: There's a little overlap, but the overlap is just customer choice.

McAdam: And it's truly minimal, from our perspective.

In addition, I want to go into some depth on the Cisco partnership, but would it be feasible for you, for example, to be partnering with other hardware makers like an HP, an Arista or a Juniper?

McAdam: Absolutely. In fact, I was personally involved in the Arista launch on Monday (See "Arista fires broadside at Cisco/Insieme with new switches") We actually did a press release today on the Synthesis technology ecosystem. That went out this morning. It names Arista, names VMware, Dell is there, HP is there. It's pretty universal in terms of its architecture.

Rivelo: Because it goes back to the point you made, John, that we really sit on top of those fabrics. Anybody Layer 2, Layer 3 fabric, our services sit on top of that, stitching together that whole Layer 2-Layer 7 world. So if it's a Cisco customer deploying the new Insieme technology or VMware NSX customer or HP with their OpenFlow solutions, that's to a large degree immaterial to us, because we have an abstraction layer from the network to the application, and that allows us to sit very well in those environments.

I want to talk about the Cisco partnership. Now Cisco is a competitor, so why do this? Why be so vocal about supporting their architecture and their announcements?

McAdam: Well, in truth, there's a minimal competition between us and Cisco. Are you aware that Cisco end-of-life'd the Layer 4/Layer 7 product

Yes.

McAdam: We really haven't been competing with Cisco. There's some overlap, it's pretty small in nature. It's pretty small for us and it's very small for them. So we think there's a really strong opportunity for partnership. We really have pretty similar visions in terms of the way that data centers are going to roll out. We think that Synthesis and the ACI architecture they just announced, the similarities from a technology perspective are significant, and from a business perspective and a customer solution perspective. We also have a very similar code base as well, in the field, so I think this will prove to be a very interesting partnership.

So John, how do you see the partnership rolling out? What should people expect, when should they expect it?

McAdam: The solution that they announced with ACI, the next step is to look at go-to-market, to look at integration, roadmap, product roadmap, areas like that, so that will happen. And Manny is very, very involved in that. Meanwhile, we are encouraging our field to partner with the Cisco account executives because we think there's a lot of synergy there in what we can bring to the customers.

Rivelo: And some of that has been happening over the years, because I think the true benefit of a partnership is really for the customer's purpose and the customer's desire is what's driving the stronger partnership. We are the de facto industry leader in Layer 4-7 services inside those data centers. In many of those data centers, in most of them, Cisco is also the leader, providing the switching or the compute or different services in there. This is a true value proposition for the customers, and the tighter the integration occurs and the smoother the go-to-market occurs, it's a win for everybody.

Cisco is taking some flack because there's a perception that their approach to SDN is a closed one, that they're trying to do this more through proprietary hardware and software versus open approaches to SDN. First, do you agree with that? And, second, does that make you at all uncomfortable partnering with them?

Rivelo: No, the access is completely open. They're implementing open standards, they're [using] open, RESTful APIs. We're fully integrated already. We were doing demos in New York yesterday of how - using what they call their application policy infrastructure controller and provisioning F5 using that - we can integrate into their networking fabric. We haven't had any issues on the integration front. We think that they have an open set of standards that we can easily plug into and the two technologies coexist very smoothly.

McAdam: And interestingly enough, we could give the exact same statement that Manny said there on a VMware-type architectural approach, so we're comfortable with both.

Does the fact that you're working with Cisco make any of the other partnerships more difficult because so many people are directly competing with them for the vision of SDN in a customer site?

McAdam: I don't think so. The key thing is, from our perspective when we go to market, to make sure that we do the right thing for the customer and the customer tends to drive you in that direction. So we see ourselves partnering with more than one partner.

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