Stakes Are High in the ADC Wars

Arthur Cole

For regular readers of this blog, I want to apologize up front for my increasingly frequent focus on the application delivery controller (ADC) and its role in the rapidly evolving dynamic data infrastructure.

But at the risk of generating a collective "ugh" from the blogosphere, I'm going to delve into it again, if only because it is becoming increasingly clear that the ADC is not just a key piece of the new IT, but the key piece. Most enterprises have already come to grips with the fact that in the cloud, their responsibilities shift from building and managing IT infrastructure to building and managing service and application environments, and the ADC will be the primary conduit between underlying server, storage and networking resources and the application layer that empowers end-users.

Cisco has apparently seen the writing on the wall. Last month, it announced it will cease development of its Application Control Engine (ACE), apparently due to the recognition that it was already out-classed by many of the contenders on the market. Instead, as we learned this week, the company will support Citrix' NetScaler system through tighter integration into tools like the Cisco Wide Area Application Services and the Adaptive Security Appliance. As well, Cisco will bundle XenServe with the Nexus 1000V switch, and there is even talk of a new integrated cloud platform built on the Cisco Unified Computing, Nexus and Open Network Environment platforms.

All of this poses a significant threat to ADC market-leader F5, which has built its business model on the development of ADC technology and the rise of dynamic data infrastructure. Almost on cue with the Cisco/Citrix announcement, the company released the latest iteration of the BIG-IP platform, the 4200v, which pushes Layer 7 traffic capabilities to 850,000 requests per day and increases both SSL and hardware compression performance in a bid to build top-end functionality into a mid-range system. At the same time, the company was quick to point out that channel providers will have lower margins with a multivendor ADC solution than with a single-vendor system.

The fact that there is so much activity in the ADC market is testament to the role the technology will have in shaping the enterprise future, says F5's Lori MacVittie. In addition to Cisco, firms like Brocade and Riverbed have jumped into the market recently — Brocade through the Foundry acquisition and Riverbed through Zeus. It's only natural that she would downplay the significance of these newcomers compared to F5, which has been building homegrown ADC products for the past 16 years. But all of this activity nonetheless represents a diversity of technology that, one way or another, will usher in the application/service-centric data ecosystem and, hopefully, all the efficiencies and enhanced capabilities that go with it.

From a market perspective, then, ADCs are about as hot as you can get, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if we have only just begun what is likely to be a fast but furious round of mergers, integrations and outright acquisitions designed to shore up sides in a high-stakes fight to the finish — on par with the Intel/Motorola and Microsoft/Apple wars of the past.

The difference here, though, is that whoever comes out on top in the ADC space will control not only the direction of the individual enterprise, but perhaps the entire global data ecosystem as well.



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