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Posts Tagged ‘Application Delivery Controllers’

One of the primary value propositions of Software Defined Networks (SDNs) is that it optimizes the performance of the applications that run on networks today. However, almost all of the SDN-related products that have been released to date operate at layer 2/3 which, of course, have no direct relevance to applications. I agree that if there’s congestion or something else impacting performance at those lower layers, applications themselves will be impacted, but for the most part, the world of applications and networks have been managed in independent silos.

To help bridge this gap between applications and networks, many network managers, data center folks and even some application developers have turned to application delivery controllers (ADCs). The ADC speaks both the language of networks and applications and can be thought of as the “Rosetta stone” of IT, and plays a key role in enterprises’ ability to roll out applications rapidly and keep them performing optimally.

However, SDNs have recently turned the networking world upside down. Things that were physical are now software-based and virtual. Networking has a level of dynamism that has never been seen before. This trend has raised the question of what the role of the ADC is in this new virtual, software-driven world.

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Amid all the noise of last week’s VMworld event, data center specialist Brocade augmented its vision for software defined networks (SDN) by announcing support for VXLAN to its ADX application delivery controllers (ADCs). To date, all of the VXLAN and SDN announcements have been focused on traffic on a single network within a data center. The ADX enhancement is meant to interconnect traffic between networks. This could be a virtual-to-virtual network or virtual-to-physical network.

As far as I know, Brocade is the first vendor to address moving traffic to another network that is distinct from a particular VXLAN-based overlay network. From what I understand, Brocade chose to add this functionality to its line of ADCs versus Ethernet switches because the ADX has some unique features that switches lack, such as stateful failovers, load balancing and the ability to maintain high availability. Bringing the ADC into the mix gives Brocade a unique plan in SDNs that can extend what it does at layer 2-3 up the stack at layers 4-7.

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I saw this recent white paper on the IDG website on why Citrix’s Netscaler ADC beats F5. It’s an interesting read that created a handful of inquiries from end-user buyers, channel partners and investors, but I don’t think it accurately portrays buying criteria. So, after spending hours on the phone, I thought I would summarize the results in this blog.

Citrix did make a few good points on the pay-as-you-grow functionality to scale on demand, but that’s really just an economic argument. The feature parity between hardware and virtual ADCs is a strong differentiator for Citrix Netscaler as well, although, I still believe nothing scales like hardware and the use cases of the software-base ADCs right now are limited to developers and mid market. As they start to work their way into cloud deployments I think that will become a bigger competitive differentiator for Citrix if F5 doesn’t adjust accordingly.

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Without sounding sarcastic, the primary benefit of a virtual application delivery controller (ADC) is that, well, it’s virtual. It requires no hardware to deploy making it low cost. It’s mobile so the ADC can be moved from one location to another in real time and it can be self provisioned by anyone, including an application developer. But virtual ADCs have their drawbacks, too.

Historically, ADCs have been physical appliances located between the network and application tiers in a data center or deployed at the edge of a network to help optimize service delivery. The primary role of ADCs has been for load balancing purposes but a number of advanced features such as encryption, security, video optimization and some application specific features have been added over the past half decade. This shift in functionality has added to the need for ADCs across different verticals and company sizes.

This increased demand is why there have been so many more versions of the ADC launched recently, including virtual editions. This begs the question, though, can virtual ADCs replace physical ones in production environments? There’s no doubt that virtual ADCs can be used as a developer tool but the big question is around production environments which leads us to the question of “to virtualize or not to virtualize?”

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