Monday, 25 June 2012 11:30

F5 grows in Australia with product and staff expansion

By Andrew Matler

Ten years in from its initial foray into the Australian market, US-based company, F5 Networks, has experienced strong local growth, particularly in recent years as it transitioned globally from its early days, primarily as a load balancing company, to an application delivery and networking provider with security at the forefront of its products and services.

In Australia, F5’s business has grown from an initial staff of 12, to a team of 17 employees three years ago and now more than 60 staff members across both the Australian and New Zealand markets as Australian businesses, particularly in the financial services sector, take up the company’s offerings to satisfy their needs to meet stringent compliance and regulatory requirements, including applications security around PCI compliance.

F5 says that in the Australian market security will continue to be a core focus and, as the company CTO Karl Triebes says, security will “drive its broader growth strategy.”  “In addition, trends such as BYOD will also be front-of-mind for F5 as it continues to broaden its scope of mobility related solutions.”

Karl Triebes recently visited Australia to look over the local operation, and iTWire CEO, Andrew Matler, caught up with him for a chat about F5’s business and its products, including the BIG-IP system of integrated application delivery services:  

AM: I hear lots about F5 and its Big IP, could you explain this suite of offerings. So what is it?

KT: F5 is our technology platform and it provides our TMOS Operating System comprising all the intelligence for the different services we provide for, such as security optimisation, and provides the value at the session level. It’s about proving your applications so that they are secure, fast and available.

AM: Karl, I understand that F5 has been known traditionally as a load balancing company and I have concluded that it’s more about security.

KT: You are correct we have been taking F5 from being known as a load balancing company to an application delivery /networking business. Load balancing is a feature, but not the solution. In 2002 we starting re-architecting our BIG IP V4 product, with the notion that we wanted a fundamental way to interact with the content destined for the data centre between the client and the application itself, and to be able to do interesting things with that data.

Although, to do that you could not be just a packet level device looking at packets kind of “flying by.” We needed to understand what was happening in the connection and proxy on behalf of that, and therefore we developed Version 9, our current proxy based architecture. This meant we could see things within the connection and then make intelligent decisions of how to deal with it rather than decisions based on packets. This enabled us to apply security to the traffic.  We now have application security offerings and Web security. Our vision is to continue in these areas due to virtualisation and BYO devices, streaming videos such as NetFlix and cloud applications.



AM: I am curious regarding Networks in your company name, is that historical?

KT: Originally the company was called F5 Labs and it was changed in the 1990s to F5 Networks.

AM: From my dealings with F5 I have wondered if F5 Applications Security may be a more accurate name?  

KT: There has been some branding discussions internally and perhaps there may be some announcements, but you will have to wait.

AM: Ok, but I have been feeling that (the name) F5 definitely should include a security theme?

KT: This is also true, as it is a key area, but not the only area. We are building data centre firewall capability with protocol security, application layer security all as part of a unified framework where you get the very high performance and the integrated look and feel towards level 7 security. We aim to protect the applications.  The other area is optimisation as there is the protection aspect of it, but also security is about availability and as we are a session level device we should be able to optimise the content as we secure it. We have the Web accelerator and we have had it for years, and we have enhanced and packaged it as a web application and also increased its performance by a factor of 10.  We can also proxy a product SPDY predominately developed at Google to speed up Web content, and we can proxy with SPDY and provide the client level optimisation and gateway back to the servers, preventing the need for them to be upgraded.

AM: I noticed the F5 growth figures have been greater than you forecasted so where have you been getting this extra growth?

KT: It’s interesting where we seem to be getting our growth, over the last 4 to 5 years (it) has started with server virtualisation where people start virtualising their applications and then later consolidating their data centres. Therefore, we can run a greater number of applications on a fewer number of servers.

One of the challenges is managing that as you still need to connect the users and the traffic to the back-end applications. You still want to offload and secure those things and it was perfect for F5 as we don't mind if it’s real or virtual, and we just care where it fits into the network, and thus it plays to our offering. The dynamism that was created with virtualisation was the perfect fit for our technology and we have been building off that.

Also, security in the last two years has been a major growth area as application security manager coupled with our other security capabilities has been great for us because, and I think awareness came in with Wiki leaks...Sony security issue and Citi Group security issue and the hacking of the CIA website…then people suddenly realised that traditional devices were not up to the challenge and that was an inflection point with more focus on security and change. The Mobile devices, and that related management and security created growth as well as cloud computing, is also a key area for security and a key focus and growth area for F5.

AM: Local case studies… I heard there was a local financial institution… and without mentioning the name?

KT: Financial sector verticals are one of our largest verticals and they typically have the most compliance requirements with the number of applications, and also due to the regulatory requirements they need to deal with and we get leveraged from standard application delivery to security and access policy control…applications security around PCI compliance. My observation is that in Australia there is a very high level of sophistication and needs requirements of technical people and users, which is fantastic.

AM: Local growth of F5 staff numbers in Australia seems strong?

KT: There were 12 people initially and it has grown about 5 times that. Having a strong presence and leveraging that presence…being able to explain the ROI and having people who are technically competent…this has been assisted by Australians willing to investigate new products that can assist the business.

AM: F5 has done very well in the telco sector, is that right?

KT: The mobile devices have been pressure on data centres for carrier based apps and signalling traffic applications to managed subscribers and F5 was assisting my traffic steering and optimisation and we have an entire worldwide team focussing on Telcos. We purchased TRAFFIX SYSTEMS  an Israeli company and their diameter routing and DPI (Deep Packet Inspection)…95% of what we do in the telco sector is what we do in other industry sectors.

AM:  I hope you have a safe trip back to the US and all the best with F5's Big IP and the "secured application delivery and networking offering".  I hope you get some more wins and create some more jobs for the local (Australian) IT community.

KT: Thanks so much as I have very much appreciated the hospitality and openness of the people I have met here. I am especially impressed with the sophistication of the IT shops and the very strong skill level of their people.


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