F5’s new CEO, Manny Rivelo, on where the company goes next

Rivelo has been with F5 for four years and spent 19 years before that at Cisco

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What we are noticing is there is a new set of applications that didn’t get these services in the past, primarily because they weren’t inexpensive. When they came with hardware they cost a significant amount of money and/or the applications weren’t going to exist for a long time. A typical example of the latter is a sporting event. In the Olympics applications need to be deployed and scaled out to support billions of users, but they have a shelf life of a month, maybe a little longer than that.

I can’t mention NFV without following up with a question about SDN. Where do you see SDN today in terms of customer adoption and what has it meant for you folks?

SDN is another trend that we are aligned well with. In general, SDN is a Layer 2 technology that allows a network, basically routers and switches, to be programmed dynamically through a control plane. We look at ourselves as a Layer 4-7 device that has separation of the data plane and the control plane. So what we’ve done is partner aggressively with VMware, Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, Arista, Dell, HP and many others who have SDN strategies, so when they deploy SDN infrastructure we can drop our services on top of that SDN dynamically, allowing us to have cohesive data plane integration.

There was a lot of initial market confusion about SDN, but over the last 18 months it’s rationalized because products have entered the market. There are some small production deployments but there are mostly a lot of proof of concepts out there, hundreds and hundreds of proof of concepts, with customers trying to figure out how it is going to work for them and where they need it in their infrastructure.

We think it’s a driver, but not a short-term driver. It’s a mid-term driver, but as those proof of concepts go into production, by being integrated we can continue to deliver services. So if a customer wants to go down a Cisco path, that’s great. If they want to go down the OpenStack path, that’s great. If they want to go down the VMware path, that’s great. We just want to make sure those services can be instantiated. It’s early days but lots of excitement and a lot of tire kicking.

As you broaden the product portfolio how has your competitive set changed?

The traditional competitors were Citrix, companies like Radware, A10, classic load balancing/ADC companies. Because we moved to the cloud through Silverline, now we compete with companies like Akamai, who have scrubbing services, or companies like CloudFlare, so that’s a broader portfolio. Because we compete in the service provider arena for firewall services we’ll run into Fortinet and we’ll run into Check Point. We’ll run into Juniper in the GI service provider use case as an example. It’s a broader competitive landscape, but we don’t have point products. We have a platform.

What are the biggest challenges you face as the new CEO?

Making sure we double down and invest in the right opportunities. I know our true north is the application centricity that we provide in the market. That’s why networks are being built. That’s what is driving today’s economy. So it’s being true to that vision and staying true to the services and the adjacencies that allow us to execute on that vision and not chasing a shiny nickel in a market that doesn’t make sense for us. We don’t want to be a consumer company, for example. That’s not of interest to us. It’s a great market but it’s not who we are and it’s not true to our DNA.

The other piece is truly understanding -- what is a market and what is a feature? There is a lot of confusion in the industry around markets today. We’ve seen that in the past, where a “product” turns out to be a feature in a bigger product and the differentiation is gone. So we’re aware of those kinds of things and doing a lot of due diligence around that.

Will there be any difference in terms of acquisition strategy with you versus John?

No, we’re not a hugely acquisitive company. We have predominately acquired as it pertains to integration. We look at our roadmap and say, “What can we accelerate in the market segment if we made a small technology sort of acquisition?” But for the Silverline service launch we made a strategic acquisition when we bought a company called Defense.Net which became the core platform for our cloud-based services.

We have an M&A team and look at transactions every week. We look at things that could accelerate our roadmap and things that are opportunistic, such as assets that are up for sale because they’re not making it but yet have some core technologies in them. And of course, we look at larger opportunities out there in the market. But you need patience for those because there are a lot of unicorns out there and demanding pretty significant dollar amounts and it’s too early to tell whether they are legitimate business models or not. That goes back to the point I was trying to make: You have to be disciplined not to get caught up in the hype but really understand, is that a market or is it a feature?

Can you point to an example?

The CASB market, the Cloud Access Security Broker market is one of those. It’s a very interesting set of technologies, but is it a stand-alone market or is it going to be a set of features that get consumed in bigger cloud-based platforms? Microsoft just acquired a company called Adallom out of Israel. They are a CASB player. Is that going to be a separate product or is that just going to be a part of their Azure cloud-based service offerings? It’s yet to be determined how those are going to get monetized, but some of those companies are billion dollar plus valuations.

In closing, is there something about you that people would be surprised to learn?

I guess the biggest thing that nobody knows about me is that I’m Cuban. I was born in Cuba and left when I was about seven years old and went to Spain, and then on to the States. If you know my full name, Manuel Felix Rivelo, you’d probably figure it out, but I’ve been called Manny since I came to the United States. Nobody can pronounce Manuel, I guess.

Have you been back?

No, I want to go back. Now that it’s legit again we want to go back. I’d like to take my mom and my kids and experience that because it’s probably going to change fairly quickly there.

 

This story, "F5’s new CEO, Manny Rivelo, on where the company goes next" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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