By David Mackey
F5 Networks has just introduced virtual clustered multiprocessing (vCMP), a technology the company says brings true virtualization to application delivery controllers for the first time. From its high-end Viprion platform, vCMP can run multiple virtual instances of the BIG-IP, F5’s popular line of load balancers and offload devices.
Cloud computing and enterprise mobility have increased demand for the services the BIG-IP offers—traffic management, access control, transport layer security, TCP and XML acceleration. What made the BIG-IP unique and earned it magic quadrant and market share leadership had been its dedicated hardware.
In an interview, product manager Michael Krasnow said, “We invested a lot in building complete system architecture. We designed application-specific and field-programmable circuits, the F5 software and used dedicated silicon: SSL chips from Cavium Networks.”
“The downside of this reliance on hardware is that it makes the system hard to virtualize. Simulate it in software and you lose the speed boost, give applications direct access to the silicon, and you risk instability,” Krasnow said.
F5 had previously allowed customers to partition an ADC logically, but that partitioning didn’t extend down to the level of TMOS, F5’s operating system. The carrier-grade Viprion platform made the difference.
“The virtualization previously offered by F5 was really just multi-tasking; only one instance of the F5 OS ran. We can run in VMWare, but commodity hardware and a commodity hypervisor don’t scale to the kind of performance we need. The Viprion is an order of magnitude faster,” Krasnow said.
New hardware support means that F5 can now offer true virtualization, with multiple instances of the OS all accessing a private partition. Different instances of the F5 OS can be given their own capacity on the Cavium silicon. They still get the sandboxing benefits (separation of running programs) of virtualization without sacrificing the performance boost of dedicated hardware.
With vCMP, an enterprise can run multiple virtual instances of the BIG-IP inside one box so that it can let owners of different services running on the appliance have complete control of their own instance of the technology for each virtual machine.
To address the fact that the Viprion platform that drives vCMP was developed and priced for large service providers, F5 is also introducing a downscaled, more affordable enterprise version.
Appliance-based application delivery controllers offer linear scalability, much like chassis-based Layer 2/3 switches. Rather than stacking individual ADC boxes, a company can buy a single chassis and add blades as its traffic requirements grow.
Announcement at Interop 2011: