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When F5 Networks secured the acquisition of uRoam (for what looks to be a bargain at $25 million), there must have been a big sigh of relief all round its Seattle office, John McIntosh of Bloor Research writes.

F5 Networks is a leader in Application Traffic Management, possibly best known for their Big-IP product. Its aim is to optimize mission-critical applications or web services by providing secure and predictable delivery of application traffic in an unpredictable environment.

So, why has it taken them so long to make the move that other network players, such as Cisco, Nortel and Alcatel have already made to acquire point technologies and, in so doing, exploit core technology and market position?

The answer is that the company suddenly got a wake-up call. The ability of Big-IP to provide in-line, deep-packet inspection of content (including SSL traffic) and to interface with other network devices as an enforcement engine against intrusion and other security threats, is a massive capability hugely under-exploited.

The sigh of relief was that F5 made the acquisition while there was still something worthwhile in the market to acquire.

The uRoam acquisition brings technology that will enable F5 to provide comprehensive application and user security. Integration of SSL VPN capabilities with current and future F5 products, puts the Company in the position where they could deliver cost-effective, easy-to-manage application security solutions that will meet the needs of the market for a few years to come.

And only just in time. The market for SSL VPNs is growing rapidly and all players in it are making money. uRoam has a fairly good reputation in the marketplace. Its FirePass product is one of the few SSL-based access solutions that also offers IPSec VPNs support, plus remote control of individual desktop systems. As such FirePass supports a number of different remote access scenarios, including wireless support for travelers, telecommuters, partners, and remote offices.

It is good to see that F5, despite the obvious commercial attractions of acquiring a piece of decent technology, is the type of company that invests in people as well, by hiring most of uRoam's employees, including core founders, key development and sales personnel. This will be comforting to existing FirePass customers, the largest of whom is SAP America, in addition to providing additional expertise to F5.

F5 will continue to develop, sell and support the FirePass product as a standalone appliance. Over the next twelve to eighteen months the company plans to integrate uRoam's technology into a comprehensive suite of product offerings designed to ensure application security and manageability across the enterprise.

A key element of this is F5's XML-based open iControl API, that allows third party applications and network devices to determine policies governing network traffic. This means that over the course of the next year or so, F5 will be delivering products that create "application aware networks" to enable customers to direct traffic based on their exact business requirements.

The implications of this are profound. Not least because it demonstrates the potential of deep packet inspection, it shows that a layered security approach can be applied in a business context rather than a technical one. That is a significant shift in the security paradigm. ®

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