F5 Networks Inc. is the latest company to acquire a software-defined networking (SDN) startup, announcing Monday morning that it's picked up LineRate Systems Inc. for an undisclosed price.
Based near Boulder, Colo., LineRate offers software for Layer 7 SDN. That is, LineRate Proxy software provides a programmable way to handle traffic at the application layer; the company's website lists policy-based traffic management as an example.
Unlike some SDN acquisition targets, LineRate isn't brand new. The company is four years old and claims PhotoBucket as a customer, as GigaOm reported last year. Ironically, the avoidance of "expensive special-purpose F5 machines" was an advantage to using LineRate, according to the story.
Why this matters
The SDN conversation has broadened beyond routing and switching to include Layers 4 through 7. Startup Embrane Inc. is trying to specialize in that area, for instance.
But F5 believes that those layers can't be handled in the same way as Layers 2 and 3, because at the application layer, the network has to keep track of the state of a flow.
As Lori MacVittie, F5 senior technical marketing manager, explains in her Monday blog posting, a Layer 7 operation might need to forward most packets to a centralized controller. OpenFlow (as an example of a Layer 2 SDN protocol) assumes only very few packets will need to be handled by the controller.
So, F5 believes a different structure is needed for Layer 7. The company seems to think LineRate has at least part of the answer.