Is F5′s ARX file virtualization a success?

by Robin Harris on Monday, 22 April, 2013

In response to the post on Avere’s architecture for fronting backend NAS filers – where StorageMojo said that no front-end to NAS boxes has succeeded – alert reader Jacob Marley asked “What about F5′s ARX to stitch/balance storage across multiple filers?”

f5-fullcolor-lg.jpg;wad58b3e319a2f6d68

Good question! What can we deduce from publicly available sources?

The F5 ARX product line is billed as an “intelligent file virtualization solution” that
“. . .preserves the logical access to files regardless of their current location on storage.” Like earlier file switches

The ARX device does not introduce a new file system; rather it acts as a proxy to the file systems that are already there.

ARX is not a storage device itself but a load-balancer for NAS filers. Then, per Mr Marley’s question, is ARX not a success?

Competitive analysis
First up, let’s take a look at the latest quarterly 10-Q report, courtesy of the SEC’s EDGAR database.

In “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” they describe their product revenues as

The majority of our revenues are derived from sales of our application delivery networking (ADN) products including our high end VIPRION chassis and related software modules; BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager, BIG-IP Global Traffic Manager, BIG-IP Link Controller, BIG-IP Application Security Manager, BIG-IP Edge Gateway, BIG-IP WAN Optimization module, BIG-IP Access Policy Manager, WebAccelerator; FirePass SSL VPN appliance; Traffix diameter signaling products; and ARX file virtualization products.

Unless this is a last-but-not-least ordering, it looks like management is not leading with the ARX products. But let’s look for more evidence of management’s priorities.

Combing through the F5 newsroom, for instance, we find that the last press release on ARX is almost 2 years old. Titled “F5’s New ARX Platforms Help Organizations Reap the Benefits of File Virtualization” it is surprising that later press releases don’t call out other success stories.

The most recent ARX white papers, “Reducing Storage Costs with F5 ARX” and “Enabling Flexibility with Intelligent File Virtualization” are both dated 2011. The ARX data sheet is from 2013 though.

The StorageMojo take
It’s clear that F5 has backed away from the ARX technology – which they acquired with Acopia in 2007 – in favor of the Application Delivery Controller market. But does that mean that the Acopia/F5 ARX didn’t succeed?

Clearly, ARX succeeded for a while: F5 bought them after all. And the F5 PR archives have several success stories from 2009.

But within the current F5 context – where they have several high-growth segments – ARX is getting little investment. At another company, perhaps, ARX would be a success, but at F5 it clearly is not.

If I were a customer I would certainly look at ARX if I wanted to virtualize disparate NAS filers. But I’d be sure to have some contingency plans in place if F5 decided to end-of-life the product in the next 2 years.

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Fun fact: F5′s name was inspired by one of my favorite movies – and an AFI top 100 selection – Twister, that popularized the Fujita scale (now the Enhanced Fujita scale) for tornado intensity.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason Radford Monday, 22 April, 2013 at 11:23 am

As a current ARX customer I think that while the long term product might be in question it’s been a win here largely for one reason. It provides insulation and insurance for us against storage companies. Migrating or aggregating filer data now becomes storage agnostic to the end user and allows us to freely and non-disruptively migrate data between vendors and new cost effective technology. This allows us to shop for the best tech and bang for the buck and not lock us into any specific vendor. For us that’s the biggest win, putting the customer in the driver seat and not locked in.

ADC is hotter than file virtualization, but unstructured file data year over year growth costs hit us hard fiscally and this product allows us to manage that effectively. Between this product and Cleversafe we feel like we are ahead of the curve instead of trying to bail water to keep data growth and costs in check.

-Jason

nate Monday, 22 April, 2013 at 1:08 pm

They did not succeed. It was a bad acquisition obviously, not a core competency on their part. I remember back in what was it 2008 or 2009 they had some sort of internal party when they sold their first ARX of the year(took a good 3-5 months or something). The concept was interesting, but really does not make sense for F5 to maintain this going forward. I’m sure they’d love to sell it to someone else if there was any interested buyers(doubt there is for what F5 would likely want in $$ for anyway).

In reading some emails from a friend over there from back then I mentioned to him Brocade had shut down another similar product:
http://www.channelregister.co.uk/2009/11/12/brocade_kills_storagex/

Speaking of tiering, I remember getting briefed(again back in 2008) on BlueArc’s tiering, which was pretty neat at the time — basically the BlueArc could mount any other NFS system and tier to it transparently (the example at the time they gave was Data domain).

nate Monday, 22 April, 2013 at 1:11 pm

another company that tried to do something similar closed it’s doors in 2011 too

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AutoVirt

Ricardo Wednesday, 24 April, 2013 at 9:51 am

F5 should embbed the ARX functionality into their LTM appliances; the ARX is a good product, but for its price it is hard to justify the investment, it can be worth as much as an enterprise NAS device.

Jacob Marley Wednesday, 24 April, 2013 at 11:39 am

The main issue with these kind of products is something Jason Radford implied, i.e. storage vendors have near zero incentive to see customers deploy such products….
- they lose majority of their lock-in; customers can migrate to the new vendor seamlessly and back if they don’t like what they find.
- they lose revenue due to reduced storage costs

F5 Data Manager…
http://www.f5.com/products/data-solutions/data-manager/overview/

We found 80% of our unstructured data (based on storage used) has not been accessed (read by anyone) in over year. With ARX, we could move 80% to cheaper/slower storage with near zero impact on SLAs.

Tiering primary storage saves a lot and applying different backup/DR policies to the different tiers saves even more.

John Nicholson Tuesday, 30 April, 2013 at 3:07 pm

BluArc’s do this with NFS targets. I’ve been trying to get a customer to consider doing this with a NFS fronted LTO6 drive for transparent archive.

ARX User Tuesday, 14 May, 2013 at 11:29 am

the F5 ARX is a great tool. The problem is F5 has put zero development behind it in the past few years. They still to this day do not support SMB2 in a production release. this is a show stopper for big Windows 7 application shops.

ARX User too Tuesday, 25 June, 2013 at 12:14 pm

It’s not correct that f5 didn’t invest in development.They developed new code for the the last plattform, also SMB v2 will be supported in the next release, but that’s all. What i can say. The product is dead. If you don’t believe, asked for a roadmap.

Juned Tuesday, 16 July, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Having worked with ARX extensively, I agree almost all of the above comments. ARX hasn’t been able to catchup with SMB developments i.e. SMB3 with advent of Windows Server 2012, it has delivered the ultimate blow. Moreoever ARX has very limited or very cumbersome failover capability. f5 ARX support is at best mediocre with near zero enthusiasm by marketing or support personnel. It is technically dead and all existing ARX customers, atleast CIFS customers, must start looking to go back to Windows Server 2012 based file system architecture.

Andy Owen Monday, 29 July, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Just thinking of investing in f5 ARX for my hospital to migrate files from our old CIFS only NAS to our new EMC VNX based NAS.

It seems to be the only thing which will get close to giving us minimal downtime, though I’ve been researching the field for ages now. Dishearteningly all the other options went out of business a couple of years ago – the only other current option seems to be Avere – but they can’t do CIFs with ACL – yet (end of this year apparently…).

arx abuser Wednesday, 13 November, 2013 at 10:38 am

i think this article pretty much closes the question raised:
http://support.f5.com/kb/en-us/solutions/public/14000/700/sol14777.html

karthik Monday, 16 June, 2014 at 3:38 pm

ARX F5 is a sunset product end of life

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