F5 Monday? The Evolution To IT as a Service Continues … in the Network

#v11 #vcmp #scaleN #iApp It’s time to bring the benefits of server virtualization, rapid provisioning and efficient, flexible scalability models to the network.

Many of you know I’m a developer by trade and gained my networking stripes after joining Network Computing Magazine around the turn of the century. I focused heavily on application-centric solutions (sometimes much to my chagrin; consider evaluating ERP solutions for a moment and I’m sure you’ll understand why) but I was also tasked with reviewing networking solutions. In particular, the realm of load balancing and application delivery fell squarely to me for most of my time with the magazine. Thus I’ve been following F5 for a lot longer than I’ve been on the dark-side team, and have seen its solutions evolve from the most basic of network appliances (remember when SSL accelerators and load balancers were stand-alone?) to the highly complex and advanced application delivery service solutions offered today.

The last time F5 released a version this significant was v9, when it moved from a simple proxy-based appliance to a hardware-enabled, full-proxy architecture. It moved from a solution to being a platform upon which We could build out future solutions more easily and empowered customers by providing both a service-enabled control plane, iControl, and a programmable framework for better managing the diverse traffic needs of our very disparate vertical industry customer-base, iRules.

While version 10 was not a trivial release by any stretch of the imagination, it pales in comparison with the fundamental architectural changes and enhancements in v11. It isn’t just about new features and functionality – though these are certainly included – it’s about architecture (internal to BIG-IP and for data centers) and automation (internal to BIG-IP and for data centers). It’s about breaking the traditional high-availability (scalability) paradigm by taking advantage of virtualization inside and out. It’s about enabling a service-oriented view of policies and infrastructure that better fits within the cloud computing demesne. It’s about laying the foundation of an optimized data center architecture based on strategic points of control throughout the network that enable increased efficiency and reliability while simultaneously bringing the benefits associated with a service-focused architecture – reusability, repeatability and consistency – to the network.

I can’t, without writing more than you really want to read on a Monday, describe everything that makes v11 such a significant release. With that in mind, let me just touch on what I think is the most game-changing pieces of the newest version of BIG-IP – and why.

  • iApp
    iApp is evolutionary for F5, but is likely the most revolutionary for the industry in general. iApp is a framework that moves the focus of BIG-IP configuration from network-oriented objects to application-centric views. But that’s just the surface under it. It’s a framework, and that implies programmability and extensibility, and that’s exactly what it offers. You might recall that for many years F5 has offered Application Ready Solutions; deployment guides developed by our engineers, often in concert with application partners like Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and VMware, that detailed the optimal configuration of BIG-IP (including all relevant modules) for a specific application or solution – SharePoint, Oracle Database, VMware View, etc… These guides were step-by-step instructions administrators could be guided by to optimally configure BIG-IP.

    This certainly reduced the application deployment lifecycle, but it didn’t address related challenges such as misconfiguration. As cloud computing and virtualization came along it also failed to address the need to create consistent deployment configurations that were easily repeatable through automation. iApp not only addresses this challenge, it goes above and beyond by providing the framework through which F5 partners and customers can easily create their own iApp deployment packages and share them. So not only do you get repeatable application deployment architectures that can be shared across BIG-IP instances, you also get the same to share with others – or benefit from others’ expertise.

    iApp is to infrastructure deployment what an EAR or an assembly is to application deployment. It’s a mobile package of BIG-IP configuration. It’s application-centric management from a pool of reusable application services.
  • ScaleN
    Traditional infrastructure high-availability models rely on an active-standby (or in some cases active-active) configuration. That means two (or more) devices which one designated primary and the others as secondary. ScaleN breaks this paradigm and says, why should be so restricted? Cloud computing and virtualization benefits are premised upon the ability to scale out and up on –demand, why shouldn’t infrastructure follow the same model? After all, the traditional paradigm requires fail-over by device – or instance.  If you need to fail-over – or simply move – one application, the entire device must be interrupted. With v11 F5 is introducing the concept of Device Service Clusters, which allow the targeted fail-over of application instances and achieves active-active-activeN.  Basically you can now scale out across a pool of CPUs or devices regardless of BIG-IP form factor or deployment platform, and manage them as one.

    This is possible by leveraging a previously introduced feature called vCMP.
  • vCMP
    I’ll include a short refresher on vCMP because it’s inherently important to the overall capabilities of scaleN and the ability to impart why it is that iApp combined with scaleN is so significant. If you’ll recall, vCMP standards for virtual Clustered Multi-Processing and it’s built off our previous CMP (Clustered Multi-Processing) capabilities. vCMP makes it possible to deploy individual BIG-IP “guest” instances that enable fault-isolation, version independency and on-demand hardware-layer scalability. This, combined with some secret sauce, is what makes scaleN possible and ultimately part of what makes v11 so significant a departure from traditional infrastructure deployment and management models.

Now, you combine all three and provide the ability to synchronize service configurations across instances via an automated policy synchronization capability (also new to v11) and you now have capabilities in the application delivery infrastructure with similar benefits and abilities as those found previously only in the server / application virtualization infrastructure: automated, repeatable, manageable, scalable infrastructure services.

It takes us several giant steps toward the realization of stateful failure; a goal that has long eluded traditional infrastructure-based scalability architectures.

v11 also includes a wealth of security-related features and enhancements as well as global application delivery service support. It is, simply put, too big to contain in a single – or even several – posts. You’ll want to explore the new options and new capabilities and consider how they fit into a strategic view of your data center architecture as you continue the path toward IT as a Service. This version supports that transformation with a very service and application-centric view of infrastructure and application delivery services, and enables even more collaboration between components and customers; collaboration that is necessary to automate - and ultimately liberate – the data center of the future with a more agile, dynamic architecture.

So take some time to explore, ask questions, and find out more about v11. We are confident you’ll find that the ability to move more fluidly toward an agile infrastructure, toward IT as a Service, will be served well by the strategic trifecta of iApp, ScaleN and vCMP.

v11 Resources

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Published Jul 25, 2011
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