Feb
25
2021
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Why F5 spent $2.2B on 3 companies to focus on cloud native applications

It’s essential for older companies to recognize changes in the marketplace or face the brutal reality of being left in the dust. F5 is an old-school company that launched back in the 90s, yet has been able to transform a number of times in its history to avoid major disruption. Over the last two years, the company has continued that process of redefining itself, this time using a trio of acquisitions — NGINX, Shape Security and Volterra — totaling $2.2 billion to push in a new direction.

While F5 has been associated with applications management for some time, it recognized that the way companies developed and managed applications was changing in a big way with the shift to Kubernetes, microservices and containerization. At the same time, applications have been increasingly moving to the edge, closer to the user. The company understood that it needed to up its game in these areas if it was going to keep up with customers.

Taken separately, it would be easy to miss that there was a game plan behind the three acquisitions, but together they show a company with a clear opinion of where they want to go next. We spoke to F5 president and CEO François Locoh-Donou to learn why he bought these companies and to figure out the method in his company’s acquisition spree madness.

Looking back, looking forward

F5, which was founded in 1996, has found itself at a number of crossroads in its long history, times where it needed to reassess its position in the market. A few years ago it found itself at one such juncture. The company had successfully navigated the shift from physical appliance to virtual, and from data center to cloud. But it also saw the shift to cloud native on the horizon and it knew it had to be there to survive and thrive long term.

“We moved from just keeping applications performing to actually keeping them performing and secure. Over the years, we have become an application delivery and security company. And that’s really how F5 grew over the last 15 years,” said Locoh-Donou.

Today the company has over 18,000 customers centered in enterprise verticals like financial services, healthcare, government, technology and telecom. He says that the focus of the company has always been on applications and how to deliver and secure them, but as they looked ahead, they wanted to be able to do that in a modern context, and that’s where the acquisitions came into play.

As F5 saw it, applications were becoming central to their customers’ success and their IT departments were expending too many resources connecting applications to the cloud and keeping them secure. So part of the goal for these three acquisitions was to bring a level of automation to this whole process of managing modern applications.

“Our view is you fast forward five or 10 years, we are going to move to a world where applications will become adaptive, which essentially means that we are going to bring automation to the security and delivery and performance of applications, so that a lot of that stuff gets done in a more native and automated way,” Locoh-Donou said.

As part of this shift, the company saw customers increasingly using microservices architecture in their applications. This means instead of delivering a large monolithic application, developers were delivering them in smaller pieces inside containers, making it easier to manage, deploy and update.

At the same time, it saw companies needing a new way to secure these applications as they shifted from data center to cloud to the edge. And finally, that shift to the edge would require a new way to manage applications.

Jan
07
2021
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F5 snags Volterra multi-cloud management startup for $500M

Applications networking company F5 announced today that it is acquiring Volterra, a multi-cloud management startup, for $500 million. That breaks down to $440 million in cash and $60 million in deferred and unvested incentive compensation.

Volterra emerged in 2019 with a $50 million investment from multiple sources, including Khosla Ventures and Mayfield, along with strategic investors like M12 (Microsoft’s venture arm) and Samsung Ventures. As the company described it to me at the time of the funding:

Volterra has innovated a consistent, cloud-native environment that can be deployed across multiple public clouds and edge sites — a distributed cloud platform. Within this SaaS-based offering, Volterra integrates a broad range of services that have normally been siloed across many point products and network or cloud providers.

The solution is designed to provide a single way to view security, operations and management components.

F5 president and CEO François Locoh-Donou sees Volterra’s edge solution integrating across its product line. “With Volterra, we advance our Adaptive Applications vision with an Edge 2.0 platform that solves the complex multi-cloud reality enterprise customers confront. Our platform will create a SaaS solution that solves our customers’ biggest pain points,” he said in a statement.

Volterra founder and CEO Ankur Singla, writing in a company blog post announcing the deal, says the need for this solution only accelerated during 2020 when companies were shifting rapidly to the cloud due to the pandemic. “When we started Volterra, multi-cloud and edge were still buzzwords and venture funding was still searching for tangible use cases. Fast forward three years and COVID-19 has dramatically changed the landscape — it has accelerated digitization of physical experiences and moved more of our day-to-day activities online. This is causing massive spikes in global Internet traffic while creating new attack vectors that impact the security and availability of our increasing set of daily apps,” he wrote.

He sees Volterra’s capabilities fitting in well with the F5 family of products to help solve these issues. While F5 had a quiet 2020 on the M&A front, today’s purchase comes on top of a couple of major acquisitions in 2019, including Shape Security for $1 billion and NGINX for $670 million.

The deal has been approved by both companies’ boards, and is expected to close before the end of March, subject to regulatory approvals.

Nov
04
2019
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Volterra announces $50M investment to manage apps in hybrid environment

Volterra is an early-stage startup that has been quietly working on a comprehensive solution to help companies manage applications in hybrid environments. The company emerged from stealth today with a $50 million investment and a set of products.

Investors include Khosla Ventures and Mayfield, along with strategic investors M12 (Microsoft’s venture arm), Itochu Technology Ventures and Samsung NEXT. The company, which was founded in 2017, already has 100 employees and more than 30 customers.

What attracted these investors and customers is a full-stack solution that includes both hardware and software to manage applications in the cloud or on-prem. Volterra founder and CEO Ankur Singla says when he was at his previous company, Contrail Systems, which was acquired by Juniper Networks in 2012 for $176 million, he saw first-hand how large companies were struggling with the transition to hybrid.

“The big problem we saw was in building and operating applications that scale is a really hard problem. They were adopting multiple hybrid cloud strategies, and none of them solved the problem of unifying the application and the infrastructure layer, so that the application developers and DevOps teams don’t have to worry about that,” Singla explained.

He says the Volterra solution includes three main products — VoltStack?, VoltMesh and VoltConsole — to help solve this scaling and management problem. As Volterra describes the total solution, “Volterra has innovated a consistent, cloud-native environment that can be deployed across multiple public clouds and edge sites — a distributed cloud platform. Within this SaaS-based offering, Volterra integrates a broad range of services that have normally been siloed across many point products and network or cloud providers.” This includes not only the single management plane, but security, management and operations components.

Diagram: Volterra

The money has come over a couple of rounds, helping to build the solution to this point, and it required a complex combination of hardware and software to do it. They are hoping organizations that have been looking for a cloud-native approach to large-scale applications, such as industrial automation, will adopt this approach.

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