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?”


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.