Industry voices: F5 simplifies the path to multi-cloud: Kerravala

This week F5 announced a number of new capabilities to enable businesses to simplify the operational aspects of shifting to a multi-cloud environment. Before I get into product specifics, it’s important to understand the nuances between the terms “multi-cloud” and “multiple clouds” as there seems to be great confusion regarding them.

When I interview IT leaders, most claim they are using multi-cloud, but in actuality they are simply using more than one cloud provider. The true definition of multi-cloud is using some combination of more than one public cloud provider as well as private clouds and edge computing to deliver a single application environment.

Conversely, using something like Amazon Web Services (AWS) to deliver application A, Azure for application B and then GCP for application C is simply using multiple clouds to deliver different applications.

While this is interesting, it doesn’t provide the same benefits as a true “multi” environment. The use of cloud native, microservices and containers give rise to modernized applications as the services and APIs are no longer constrained to a single cloud location or even a single cloud provider.

The multi-cloud shift

Multi-cloud is shifting the cloud from being a centralized compute model to one that’s distributed.

I believe Gartner was the first firm to use the term distributed cloud to describe an environment where cloud services could reside in different physical locations while the operation, governance and management are centralized.

Today, the term distributed cloud is used by many companies — F5 included — and is becoming an industry standard, although perhaps more with vendors than corporate IT.

This challenge with this model revolves around how the operations team creates consistency in the connectivity and security services in the network and application layers. One option is to use the tools provided by the cloud providers but those are limited to that specific domain. As a basic example, the AWS load balancer works well if the business is 100% AWS, but the customer would then need to purchase the equivalent for Azure, GCP, etc. Keeping the policies in sync across the various environments is near impossible.

This is where the new F5 offerings can add value. The company announced the following two new sets of its Distributed Cloud Services.

Distributed Cloud App Connect is an integrated stack of app networking and security services that can be managed through the F5 Distributed Cloud Console. These include:

  • Advanced app networking services including load balancing, API gateway, ingress/egress control and visibility.
  • Automated provisioning of web application and API protection (WAAP) services such as a web app firewall (WAF), DDoS protection, bot mitigation and API security.
  • Kubernetes integration with fine-grained control for app to app and API to API communications while still protecting the underlying network. This can significantly reduce the chance of breach while accelerating application delivery.

Distributed Cloud Network Connect is a set of secure services to deploy connectivity across cloud locations. These include:

  • Automated provisioning and orchestration of cloud provider connectivity services. This should be much simpler to manage than trying to connect to each cloud provider using the native services. Also, this will enable customers to see across cloud environments.
  • Intent-based micro-segmentation and service insertion of third-party network functions virtualization (NFV) for secure and extensible connectivity.
  • An option to utilize F5’s fully private global network to optimize application performance over high-speed private links to public cloud providers.

The rebuilding risk

While these services are new, the role F5 is playing certainly is not. The company has long been the market leader in application delivery and has historically offered these types of services in enterprise data centers. It’s BigIP product remained the gold standard for on-prem data centers for years.

In 2019 the company acquired NGINX, which enabled it to service the needs for customers using centralized public clouds. In 2021, it purchased Volterra, which brought the distributed cloud capabilities.

The combination of its legacy BigIP product combined with NGINX- and the Volterra-powered distributed cloud services enable the company to provide application and security services to any type of app architecture. The ability to bridge to other app deployment models will be an important differentiator for F5.

While multi-cloud is certainly the future, centralized cloud, private clouds and legacy on prem are not going away any time soon as the cost of retiring legacy apps remains prohibitively high and not worth risk of rebuilding.

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long-term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to end-user IT and network managers, vendors of IT hardware, software and services and the financial community looking to invest in the companies that he covers. He can be reached at [email protected], and follow him @zkerravala and on YouTube.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors — often industry experts or analysts — who are invited to the conversation by Silverlinings' editors. They do not represent the opinions of Silverlinings.