F5 Networks: Out of the Garage

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2006-02-08 Print this article 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."

Secure Remote Access

F5 Networks
401 Elliot Ave. W.
Seattle, Wa 98119
(206) 272-5555



John Mcadam
President & CEO
Before joining F5 in July 2000, the Scotland native led IBM's Web server sales. Previously he was president of Sequent Computer Systems, a maker of high-end servers bought by IBM in 1999.

Jeff Pancottine
Senior VP and GM,
Security Business Unit

Joined F5 in October 2000 as head of marketing and business development. Previously ran sales and marketing for RealNetworks' media systems unit, and marketing at Sequent.

FirePass 1000 appliance provides access for up to 100 concurrent users. FirePass 4100 supports up to 2,000 concurrent users and provides fail-over between two appliances.
Reference Checks

Coast Capital Savings
Andrew Banman
Systems Engineer
Project: The 48-branch Canadian bank gives employees access to a Microsoft Windows Terminal Services server using two FirePass 1000s.

Lake Forest Hospital
Stephen Morenzoni
Senior Network Engineer
Project: Hospital north of Chicago provides access to various medical systems to 150 doctors and other employees through its FirePass 4100.

Perry Manufacturing
Phil Adams
Dir., I.T.
(336) 786-6171
Project: Apparel maker in Mount Airy, N.C., uses a FirePass 1000 to connect offices in Hong Kong and the Dominican Republic to its IBM iSeries system.

Buckingham-Shire Fire & Rescue Service
Garry Griffin
Mgr., IS
Project: Fire brigade in Aylesbury, England, offers 650 employees remote access to e-mail and other files with a FirePass 1000.

Santa Barbara Charter
Brenda Terry
Mgr., I.T.
Project: Air charter service in Santa Barbara, Calif., uses a FirePass 1000 to let pilots check their schedules.

Kent School District
Thuan Nguyen
Dir., Project Management and Technical Services
Project: The 40-school district near Seattle allows 3,100 faculty and staff members to access files, student information and other resources through two FirePass 4100s.

Executives listed here are all users of F5's products. Their willingness to talk has been confirmed by Baseline.


2006FYTD 2005FY 2004FY
Revenue $88.09M $281.41M $171.19M
Gross margin 77.8% 76.8% 77.0%
Operating income $21.78M $71.89M $26.33M
Net income $15.22M $51.73M $32.95M
Net margin 17.3% 18.4% 19.2%
Earnings per share $0.37 $1.34 $0.92
R&D expenditure $10.48M $31.35M $24.36M
Sales and marketing $28.87M $89.25M $65.38M

* 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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