F5 Buys LineRate Systems to Expand SDN Capabilities

F5 is focusing its efforts around offering applications services that run on software-defined networks.

F5 Networks became the latest technology vendor to acquire a company to push forward its software-defined networking ambitions, buying LineRate Systems Feb. 11 for its SDN services.

F5, a key player in the application delivery controller market, is eyeing the fast-growing SDN market from the Layer 4-7 perspective, where services like security, acceleration, optimization and traffic management live. Up to now, most of the attention in SDN has been at the connectivity level, where established companies like Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Juniper Networks are competing with such startups as Big Switch Networks and Plexxi, and where protocols like OpenFlow are debated.

Less attention has been paid to the application layer, though it is beginning to get more ink. Not only is F5 making its play in that part of the SDN space, but others, such as Embrane, also are focusing there. In a recent interview with eWEEK, Embrane CEO Dante Malagrino, a former Cisco executive, said that as the SDN trend continues, the role of services to run on these networks will become more important, and that he anticipates other SDN vendors will start moving up the stack to the application layer.

Lori MacVittie, senior technical marketing manager at F5, agreed.

As SDN matures, its focus will continue to move up the network stack, toward the application layers," MacVittie wrote in a Feb. 11 post on the F5 blog. "The programmable, scalable services at the application layer comprising the Application Services Fabric are necessary to fully realize the benefits of SDN and software-defined data centers, particularly in environments where network function virtualization [NFV] is adopted as a strategy to achieve maximum agility. Network function virtualization requires not only the improved performance of today's modern x86 hardware platforms, but software capable of scaling on demand while maintaining optimal performance and offering a high-degree of programmability for superior software defined control over the network."

Application-layer SDN services will bring greater agility, flexibility, scalability and programmability to SDNs, and will help businesses gain the benefits of the larger software-defined data centers, Jason Needham, vice president of product management and marketing, told eWEEK.

"This is a technology acquisition," Needham said. "We expect to deliver broad value to our customers."

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

SDNs are designed to take much of the tasks found in networking hardware, particularly in switches and hardware, and centralize them in software-based controllers. SDNs are generating a lot of interest among organizations and tech vendors alike. IDC analysts predict that revenues in the market could hit $360 million this year and grow to $3.7 billion by 2016. It's also driving some vendors to build up their capabilities via acquisitions or investments. VMware in 2012 nabbed Nicira for $1.26 billion, followed closely by Oracle buying Xsigo. Brocade bought Vyatta, and last week Intel invested $6.5 million in Big Switch Networks.

F5's Needham and Andrew Stern, vice president of corporate development, said the acquisition of LineRate Systems dovetails with the direction F5 has been going for the past couple of years in creating an application control plane architecture, which kicked off in 2011 with the release of version 11 of its Big-IP offering. F5 also has been adding support for network virtualization environments, they said.

"This is just a continuation of that theme," Needham said.

LineRate's SDN services are based on its LineRate Operating System (LROS), and the company offers LineRate Proxy, a suite of network services.

Neither Needham nor Stern would elaborate on product plans, though Needham did say that the acquisitions not only would result in enhancements to F5's current products, but also in new offerings down the road.