October 2007 | Volume 2 / Number 5
Sees All, Knows All, Does All...
Richard “Zippy” Grigonis
Yours Truly's eyebrows were raised, however, when reading the sentence, BIG-IP is the only device in the industry that can do everything. As it turns out, it may be that the BIG-IP, a local traffic manager from the well-known application delivery management vendor, F5 Networks (www.f5.com), really does just about everything, except take out the garbage and mow the lawn.
The humble description of the BIG-IP as a local traffic manager is a bit deceptive, since the box starts off by including built-in support for managing IP applications based on SIP (Session Initiation Protocol (News - Alert)) messaging and IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) interfaces, then builds from there. The system is made extremely flexible and configurable via its modularity - instead of adding more single-purpose devices to a network (thus complicating matters further) a network operator or service provider can now choose which functions it wants by selecting various BIG-IP software product modules and BIG-IP feature modules, which are software versions of F5's appliance products, now written to run on BIG-IP devices. Providers are now able to expand or adapt service delivery to changing conditions via software customization of the BIG-IP system.
BIG-IP Product Modules naturally include the namesake Local Traffic Manager (LTM) which, as its name implies, spreads connections across multiple clustered servers, connecting to and sending traffic to the server with the least load, thus speeding transactions.
Other modules are as follows: The Global Traffic Manager (GTM) module automatically routes connections to alternate data centers if the main data center goes offline or becomes temporarily overloaded. BIG-IP's Link Controller (LC) module automatically compensates for link failures or ISP problems by switching traffic to alternate connections. The Application Security (News - Alert) Manager (ASM) protects critical applications and their data by defending against application-specific attacks that ignore conventional firewalls. Finally, the WebAccelerator (WA) stops web browsers from endlessly (and needlessly) re-requesting page content from the server, thus enabling fewer web servers to satisfy more users, boosting interactive user performance by a factor of 10.
The even more extensive BIG-IP feature modules can be purchased to add more specialized functionality. Feature modules include Advanced Client Authentication, Advanced Routing (allow BIG-IP to manage the routing information used by traffic traversing networks and to share it with other devices), Fast Cache (reduces server loads by 50% by preventing servers from processing repetitive requests for identical content), Intelligent Compression (15x compression that reduces bandwidth usage and compensates for poor web application performance caused by WAN latency and connection bottlenecks), IPv6 Gateway (News - Alert) (pools mixed IPv4 and IPv6 host resources for a an easy transition), L7 Rate Shaping (provides priority to traffic classes based on any L4 or L7 parameter), Message Security (a perimeter anti-spam solution that extends security for message applications to the edge of the network, stopping up to 70% percent of unwanted e-mail) and SSL Acceleration (improves the performance of servers and increases security by taking over the task of encrypting and decrypting data, to the tune of up to 48,000 SSL transactions per second available on the BIG-IP 8800).
F5's BIG-IP may not do absolutely everything, but it's the closest thing to a mythical God Box that you're liable to see plugged into an IMS network.