In Magic Quadrant for Application Delivery, F5 Really Delivers

One often-overlooked aspect of network technology focuses on solving what can be a business's most pressing technology problem: improving, as the authors of a recent Gartner report put it, "the availability, performance, and security of Web- or Internet Protocol-based applications." The quirky little market space -- which Gartner defines in the "Magic Quadrant for Application Delivery Products, 2007" report as comprising "technologies [that] apply across a growing base of applications in the enterprise that may (or may not) use the Internet at all, or have little or no roots in Internet and browser-based technologies" -- can play a major role in customer-facing activities, where speed, reliability, and security can be paramount. Today, companies use application delivery to improve reliability, end-user performance, and security for a variety of enterprise applications, and successful application delivery controllers offer a suite of services at the network application layer, including data compression, network address translation, selective compression, caching, virtualization, and transaction assurance. In that context, Gartner anointed F5 Networks as the clear leader in this area, with Citrix Systems the only other vendor included in the research firm's top quadrant. No vendors appear in the Challengers' quadrant at all -- an atypical outcome for a Gartner Magic Quadrant report. The two leaders, according to the report, have exhibited an ability to shape the market by introducing additional capabilities in their product offerings and by raising the importance of these features. (Gartner lauded F5, for example, for a "strong focus on applications, including long-term relationships with major application vendors, including Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP.") Among the considerations in Gartner's evaluation were the product or service, pricing, availability, market responsiveness and track record, customer experience, market understanding, and innovation. At the other end of the report from the Leaders' quadrant, the seven vendors named as Niche Players were:
  • Cisco Systems,
  • Foundry Networks,
  • Nortel Networks,
  • Juniper Networks,
  • Coyote Point,
  • NetContinuum, and
  • Array Networks (which scored the lowest among all included vendors in terms of both completeness of vision and ability to execute).
Nestled between the Leaders and the Niche Players. the Visionaries segment of Gartner's report comprised four vendors, most of which only narrowly escaped the lowly Niche Players sector thanks to barely-good-enough completeness of vision:
  • Akamai (which has swallowed up Netli, a vendor in last year's report),
  • Crescendo (an entrant making its debut in the report this year, and which, according to Gartner, has rapidly emerged from startup status in 2005 to becoming a strong player),
  • Radware, and
  • Zeus Technology.
The application delivery market continues to evolve rapidly, as does Gartner's expectation of vendors, says Joe Skorupa, a Gartner research director and co-author of the report. (For example, one vendor, Stampede Technologies, was dropped from the report after last year because Gartner now sees Stampede as being more focused on the WAN optimization controller market.) Vendors, Skorupa writes in the report, must continue to improve their products in order to maintain their relevance to the marketplace and to the Magic Quadrant listing. The market has advanced a long way from simply providing load balancing and Secure Sockets Layer termination for basic HTML traffic, Skorupa says. Many enterprise applications that appear to be browser-based actually employ thick clients that run within the browser. These thick clients combined with various thin clients make for a complex application delivery environment, he adds. As a result, enterprises are demanding increasingly more sophisticated solutions.

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