F5 Networks: Out of the GarageBy Baselinemag | Posted 2006-02-08 Print
F5 Networks got its Web access appliance line by buying a 20-person startup, and some say it retains a kind of tinkering-in-the-garage touch.
F5 Networks skipped onto the secure access scene by acquiring 20-employee startup uRoam in 2003 for $25 million. While customers say its SSL appliance is a solid performer, some still get a tinkering-in-the-garage feel about the product's support and documentation.
Andrew Banman, systems engineer at Coast Capital Savings, a 48-branch bank in British Columbia, Canada, says F5's support for FirePass has been "pretty good" overall. But he adds that the company does not have a detailed knowledge base for FirePass. In Banman's experience, calling tech support is "more like talking to a few guys who've developed some cool stuff ... quite often they're going to work the problem over a couple of days."
In response, an F5 spokeswoman says that's "not consistent with the customer satisfaction feedback that F5 is receiving." She cites a recent company survey of 51 FirePass customers, who rated overall support 8.3 on a 10-point scale.
But there's another artifact of FirePass' startup days: a lack of thorough documentation, says Stephen Morenzoni, senior network engineer at Lake Forest Hospital north of Chicago. "I consider myself a bright guy, and I couldn't figure out how to do some things," he says. For example, in previous versions, Morenzoni couldn't discover how to enable FirePass' direct-connect feature, which lets someone enter a computer's network address to access it remotely. He says F5 documented the feature with the latest release of FirePass' software, version 5.5, last fall. (F5 says it "recognized the issue with documentation and has resolved it" with 5.5.)
Meanwhile, Morenzoni says his FirePass 4100 has been running "really great" since he installed it two years ago. He's also pleased with its integration with Microsoft's Active Directory system because it saves time: Access privileges need to be entered only once, in Active Directory, instead of separately on FirePass.
And F5 has made key enhancements to FirePass since buying uRoam, says Abraham George, manager of information technology at the U.S. Fund for Unicef. For example, a recent upgrade added the ability to enforce security policies so administrators could, say, block access from PCs lacking antivirus software.
F5 also impressed George by going beyond the call. When the FirePass 1000 unit Unicef bought from uRoam in 2000 malfunctioned, F5 replaced it, no questions asked. Says George: "It wasn't even an F5 box, but they sent us a brand-new one."
F5 OPERATING RESULTS*
* Fiscal Year Ends Sept. 30; Fytd Reflects First Three Months
Total assets - $588.78M
Stockholders' equity - $504.62M
Cash and equivalents - $18.73M
Short-term investments - $240.12M
Long-term debt - None
Shares outstanding - 40.81M
Market value, 1/26 - $2.46B
** As of Dec. 31, 2005, Except as Noted
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