F5 Networks - originally called F5 Labs - was established in 1996 and was inspired by the movie Twister, which referenced the fastest and most powerful tornado on the Fujita Scale. The company made a name for itself early on with its first product, a load balancer called BIG-IP. In essence, when a server went down or became overloaded, BIG-IP directed traffic to other servers that could handle the load. After just three years, in June 1999, the company went public and assumed the title of F5 Networks – it was listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange.
“Our corporate focus centres on providing network intelligence that enables customers to respond quickly to change, streamline business processes, reduce costs, and provide differentiated offerings that help increase revenue,” explains Mamduh Allam, General Manager for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Through internal development and acquisition, F5 Networks has gone on to extend its reach beyond load-balancing, producing a range of integrated products for Application Delivery Networking. These seek to improve the delivery of web-based applications by attempting to make them run faster and more securely.
Whether it is security, availability, performance or other critical services, F5 helps deliver the most secure, fast and reliable applications to anyone, anywhere, at any time. The company is dedicated to providing its clients with world-class, innovative tech solutions, whether that is in the form of security, cloud management or server upgrades. It is also passionate about developing mutually beneficial partnerships with large organisations to provide an all-encompassing technology offering.
F5 has always been focused on providing key services to applications. In 2004, it launched an application delivery controller solution focusing on a full-proxy architecture delivered by F5’s Traffic Management Operating System (TMOS). This led to significant partnerships with most of the leading software providers.
F5 continued its evolution by organic investment and acquisitions, developing market-leading add-on solutions in areas such as web application security, access management, DDoS mitigation and many others. All leverage the full proxy architecture of BIG-IP and TMOS for massive scalability and performance.
The company has also put a large emphasis on ensuring its technologies are cloud-ready by enabling Virtual Edition solutions across all hypervisors, increasing their performance and density. Being at the forefront of technology and innovation is critical to the company’s vision and objectives, not to mention its long term success.
To this end, in recent times, F5’s key move was the 2013 launch of Synthesis, an architectural vision that promotes the delivery and orchestration of Software Defined Application Services™ throughout data centre, cloud, and hybrid environments. As the company explains: “Powered by an elastic, multi-tenant and high-performance services fabric, F5 Synthesis enables customers to rapidly and cost-effectively provision layer 4-7 services, complementing existing layer 2-3 network and compute-focused efforts. A comprehensive set of management and control plane APIs ensures integration and interoperability with SDN and virtualization systems, as well as in the cloud.”
As a part of its Synthesis vision, F5 Networks has been developing its flourishing partnership with Cisco over the past year. Integrating F5 SDAS into Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI™) enables customers to benefit from a virtualized architecture with an application fabric integrated onto a network fabric. The joint solution facilitates virtual workload mobility and policy-driven application delivery to significantly reduce operating costs without compromising on consistent, scalable network and L4-L7 services.
F5 Networks has also benefited from a strong partnership with VMware, which includes interoperable solutions around technologies such as End User Computing, network virtualization, data centre and cloud management, and VMware vCloud® Air™ hybrid cloud platform.
Security has been high on the agenda for the past year, as highlighted by the company’s acquisition of Defense.Net in May 2014. The cloud-based security services company gives F5 a competitive edge in providing solutions to defend against application-layer, network-layer, and data center threats delivered via the Internet such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.The acquisition of Defense. Net complements existing F5 solutions such as its Advanced Firewall Manager.
In November 2014, F5 announced new hybrid service capabilities to help organizations scale IT resources across dynamic cloud and data center deployments. Under the company’s new Silverline™ banner, F5 will offer extended security, optimization, and availability services from hosted and managed infrastructure, marking F5’s entrance into the cloud services delivery space.
The F5 Silverline services delivery platform expands the company’s F5 Synthesis™ architecture to enable application services within customers’ deployment model of choice: on-premises and/or as-a-service. Beginning with DDoS protection and security intelligence services, the Silverline platform will support additional application delivery capabilities as-a-service in the future.
Heartbleed: An example of F5 security prowess and innovation
F5 takes great pride in its security solutions and was an industry leader in response to the Heartbleed bug. Companies using F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager™ to terminate SSL connections already had the necessary protections in place to secure their applications against the Heartbleed bug. This is just one example of the company’s commitment to providing its customers with leading, of-the-moment, reactive technology and security solutions.
Trends impacting business
Today however, technology is not limited to servers, PCs and business; it is everywhere, in everything we do, daily. From handheld devices, cars and watches; everything even thermostats and refrigerators are connected. So what does this mean for applications? According to Allam they have had to become more sophisticated and need more services to make them available, faster and secure.
“The challenges we have to contend with are a mixture of both applications and infrastructure, and are based on business requirements that push IT to be more agile and responsive. For example, mobile apps and BYOD tax both applications and network infrastructure. However, organisations and solutions are typically siloed, focusing on solving their specific issues without addressing the larger problems as a whole. These technology shifts are creating market transitions and a great opportunity for solutions providers that understand how to bring everything together and unlock value and new routes to innovation,” he says.
“One of the key drivers for us is that the traditional network borders are collapsing. In their place are seemingly disparate clusters of cloud and mobility, as well as the ever-present generation of new sources of data and higher streams of traffic. For companies navigating this new terrain, management and planning of infrastructure is essential, as is understanding how to get ‘social intelligence’ in the connectivity fabric.”
This has led to the emergence of Software Defined Application Services (SDAS), the next phase in the evolution of application delivery. SDAS is the result of delivering highly flexible and programmatic application services from a unified, high-performance application service fabric and serves to solve the significant challenges created by the Internet of Things (IoT).
Middle East presence
F5 Networks has strong coverage in all key Middle East markets based out of Saudi Arabia and United Arab of Emirates. This is supported by an extensive network of partners and account and sales managers. The company also has a professional services team entirely dedicated to the region, and second engineers to customers when major project work demands.
“We are growing fast, and in the past four years we have increased our headcount more than five times over. We have a good sense of where we’re going in the region and are ready and able to scale to meet growing demand for our services,” explains Allam.
Middle East successes
The company has already had many successes in the region and is providing critical services to enable growth and innovation for major clients in sectors such as finance and banking, telecommunications, government, construction, energy and retail. As the region continues to grow at a breath-taking pace, F5 services are becoming ever more appealing. For example, it is already involved in several Software Defined Network projects with telecom and other enterprise customers - projects and initiatives that will rely on fast, secure and reliable applications.
So what next for the company and its Middle East operations?
“As ever, we are planning to grow and invest in the region. We are driven by our customer-centricity, and we will continue to scale and deliver services on their doorstep. As we increasingly move towards an application-driven world, F5 will be at the forefront of better enabling IT and business stakeholders to align technology to meet today's most pressing challenges - cloud enablement, security and the mobility of devices. In particular, we expect our security offerings to experience strong uptake in the coming year,” concludes Allam.
With a clear vision and path to success, backed up by a strong and knowledgeable team of experts, F5 Networks is sure to flourish in 2015 and beyond. When a company’s game-plan is so centred on the future, it is hard to imagine it not achieving success at that time.
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