F5 CEO sees opportunity in myriad challenges facing IT

F5 Networks CEO John McAdam says future of IT is complicated, confusing and riddled with security threats - and that's a good thing.

F5 Networks CEO John McAdam said Tuesday at his company's Agility conference in New York that, in essence, the future of IT is complicated, confusing and riddled with security threats - and that's a good thing.

"We think that's a brilliant market opportunity," McAdam said.

Many of the biggest changes happening in IT - consumerization and mobility, the cloud, and so on - are consumer-driven, rather than vendor-driven, he added. That's forcing the IT industry to roll with the punches.

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"I've never seen so many changes happening in the industry," he said.

It may seem counter-intuitive for an apparently old-school vendor like F5 - which made its name selling load balancing hardware to data centers - to be quite so upbeat about a world set to be dominated by clouds and SDN, with a consequent shift toward commodity hardware.

McAdam acknowledges that this is an undeniable challenge for a company that has traditionally been a specialized hardware vendor.

"If they could have nothing but commodity hardware, they'd love that," he said. "[But] there's still going to be times you need specialized hardware."

He may be right, at that - the company has been adding staff, revenues have grown by 18% year over year, and several important acquisitions have provided cutting-edge technology that has allowed F5 to broaden the scope of its offerings.

"Our strategy has been to have the TMOS platform and increase our addressable market by adding solutions to that platform," he said.

TMOS, or the Traffic Management Operating System, is F5's term of art for the software framework uniting its own products with those of recent acquisitions, including Defense.net and Versafe.

This diversification has already led to new business, according to McAdam. Having completed 900 replacements of Cisco ACE - an older application delivery product - in 2013, F5 has built on those installations to sell more functionality to those customers.

"Typically, it's not just a straight replacement," he said. "Typically, we're not just doing load balancing for the load balancing, we're probably adding a security solution, adding other solutions in our portfolio as well."

Industry watchers, like analyst and Network World blogger Zeus Kerravala, concur that F5 has done a good job riding the waves of change.

Kerravala wrote today that the company is particularly well-placed in the context of the SDN marketplace, having partnered with both of the two main rivals in the sector, Cisco and VMware.

It's easy for F5 to offer value in that partnership, he said, because the idea that the ADC is going to be replaced in the data center as a result of the coming age of SDN is bogus.

"I believe the likelihood of an SDN controller replacing an ADC is about as likely as Tim Tebow becoming a Pro Bowl quarterback," Kerravala wrote. "ADCs will be the 'Rosetta Stone' used to enable applications and the network to talk to one another."

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