F5 Networks goes SDN, buys LineRate Systems

Software-defined networking strategies are to enterprise IT vendors what the little black dress is to fashion designers: You have to have one. On Monday, F5 Networks remedied its lack of an SDN play by acquiring startup LineRate Systems for an undisclosed amount of money.

Seattle-based F5 has been around since 1996 and sells a variety of appliance for everything from load balancing to application firewalls to cloud storage. LineRate is a Boulder, Colo.-based company that launched with $5.4 million in funding in 2012 and wants to help companies scale their network services using software so they can handle more web traffic. Here’s how GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham described LineRate’s technology when covering its launch:

“The LineRate software, which was developed at the University of Colorado, works on machines running both network-specific chips and x86-based silicon. This means someone could deploy LineRate’s software to deliver network services on top of Intel boxes or on top of gear using network processors. …

“LineRate’s operating system accelerates the way networking messages are passed through from one server to another, which is why it thinks it can speed up network services even on x86-based chips, which historically have been too slow to handle the real-time world of network services. The software is also massively multitenant, supporting up to 4,000 virtual machines located on one server. This serves cloud clients today, but also presages a future when servers get more cores and capabilities that will allow them to support more virtual machines.”

An F5 Big-IP appliance

An F5 Big-IP appliance

Of course, as Stacey also pointed out, SDN startups like LineRate exist in part to disrupt the decades-old hardware-based model of network management that companies such as F5 exemplify. By acquiring LineRate, F5 gets to dip a toe into the future for its webscale customers (one of LineRate’s early customers, for example, is PhotoBucket) while still keeping its appliance on hand for the old guard. Over time, like so many other network vendors, it seems logical that F5 will transition into a company whose hardware is, buy and large, a commoditized delivery medium for its smart network-management software.

Both companies involved are stressing the importance of this acquisition at the application level, where F5 makes its money, as opposed to up the OSI stack where many other SDN products play. In a press release announcing the purchase, LineRate Co-founder and Chief Software Architect Manish Vachharajani is quoted as saying, “We recognize that the SDN fabric may be good at layer 2-4, but ultimately customers care most about the applications.”

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user macka.