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The Game of Musical (ADC) Chairs

Now things are starting to get interesting…

Nearly everyone has played musical chairs – as a child if not as an adult with a child. When that music stops there's a desperate scrambling to pair up with a chair lest you end up sitting on the sidelines watching the game while others continue to play until finally, one stands alone. The ADC market has recently been a lot like a game of musical chairs, with players scrambling every few months for a chair upon which they can plant themselves and stay in the game.

clip_image001While many of the players in adjacent markets –storage, WAN optimization, switching – have been scrambling for chairs for months, it is only today, when the big kids have joined the game, that folks are really starting to pay attention. While a deepening Cisco-Citrix partnership is certainly worthy of such attention, what's likely to be missed in the distraction caused by such an announcement is that the ADC has become such a critical component in data center and cloud architectures that it would leave would-be and has-been players scrambling for an ADC chair so they can stay in the game.

ADCs have become critical to architectures because of the strategic position they maintain: they are the point through which all incoming application and service traffic flows. They are the pivotal platform upon which identity and access management, security, and cloud integration heavily rely. And with application and device growth continuing unabated as well as a growing trend toward offering not only applications but APIs, the clip_image002incoming flows that must be secured, managed, directed, and optimized are only going to increase in the future.

F5 has been firmly attached to a chair for the past 16 years, providing market leading application and context-aware infrastructure that improves the delivery and security of applications, services, and APIs, irrespective of location or device.

That has made the past three months particularly exciting for us (and that is the corporate "us") as the market has continued to be shaken up by a variety of events. The lawsuit between A10 and Brocade was particularly noteworthy, putting a damper on A10's ability to not only continue its evolution but to compete in the market. Cisco's "we're out, we're not, well, maybe we are" message regarding its ACE product line shook things up again, and was both surprising and yet not surprising. After all, for those of us who've been keeping score, ACE was the third attempt from Cisco at grabbing an ADC chair. Its track record in the ADC game hasn't been all that inspiring.

Unlike Brocade and Riverbed, players in peripherally related games who've recognized the critical nature of an ADC and jumped into the market through acquisition (Brocade with Foundry, Riverbed with Zeus), Cisco is now trying a new tactic to stay in a game it recognizes as critical: a deeper more integrated relationship with Citrix.

It would be foolish to assume that either party is a big winner in forging such a relationship. Citrix is struggling simply to maintain Netscaler. Revised market share figures for CYQ1 show a player struggling to prop Netscaler up and doing so primarily through VDI and XenApp opportunities, opportunities that are becoming more and more difficult to execute on for Citrix. This is particularly true for customers moving to dual-vendor strategies in their virtualization infrastructure. Strategies that require an ADC capable of providing feature parity across virtual environments in addition to the speeds and feeds required to support a heterogeneous environment. Strategies that include solutions capable of addressing operational complexity; that enable cloud and software defined data centers with a strong, integrated and programmable platform.

While Microsoft applications and Apache continue to be the applications BIG-IP is most often tasked with delivering, virtualization is growing rapidly and Citrix XenApp on BIG-IP is no exception. In fact we've seen an almost 200% growth of Citrix XenApp on BIG-IP from Q2 to Q3 (FY12), owing to BIG-IP's strength and experience in not just delivery optimization and the ability to solve core architectural challenges associated with VDI, but also compelling security and performance capabilities coupled with integration with orchestration and automation platforms driving provisioning and management of virtualization across desktop and server infrastructure.

Citrix's announcement makes much of a lot of integration that is forthcoming, of ecosystems and ongoing development. Yet Cisco has made such announcements in the past, and it leaves one curious as to why it would put so many resources toward integrating Citrix when it could have done so at any time with its own solution. Integration via partnerships is a much more difficult and lengthy task to undertake than that of integration with one's own products, for which one has complete control over source code and entry points.

If you think about it, Cisco is asking the market to believe that it will be successful with a partner where it has been unsuccessful with its own products. What we have is a vendor struggling to sell its ADC solution asking for help from a vendor who is struggling to sell its own ADC solution.

It's a great vision, don't get me wrong; one that sounds as magically delicious as AON. But it's a vision that relies on integration and development efforts, which requires resources; resources that if Cisco has them could have been put toward ACE and integration, but either do not exist or do not align with Cisco priorities. It's a vision that puts Citrix's CloudStack at the center of a combined cloud strategy that conflicts with other efforts, such as the recent release of Cisco's own version of OpenStack which, of course, is heavily supported by competing virtualization partner, VMware.

In the game of musical ADC chairs, only one player has remained consistently instep with the beat of the market drum: and that player is F5.

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More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.