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F5 data center firewall aces performance test

David Newman | July 23, 2013
BIG-IP 10200v combines firewall, load balancer, DoS protection in one fast, scalable appliance.

Huge data center, check. Multiple 10G Ethernet pipes, check. Load balancer, check. Firewall? Really? Do network architects need to buy yet another box, and likely take a performance hit?

Not according to F5 Networks, which says its BIG-IP 10200v with Advanced Firewall Manager (AFM) can handle traffic at 80-Gbps rates while screening and protecting tens of millions of connections, and simultaneously load-balancing server traffic.

In this exclusive Clear Choice test, we put those claims to the test. The F5 firewall came up aces, maxing out network capacity while also offering sophisticated filtering and attack protection capabilities. In some cases, traffic rates were higher with the firewall in place than without, probably because the F5 device managed server loading more efficiently.

Although F5 is mainly known for its BIG-IP application delivery controllers (ADC), the company has steadily been adding to its security suite, especially for the data center. The BIG-IP 10200v, introduced early this year, is the second largest member of the family, with 16 10G Ethernet interfaces and two 40G Ethernet interfaces in a 2RU form factor. The only larger unit is the chassis-based Vipiron 4800.

While most of the attention in next-generation firewalls has focused on client protection, F5 targets the BIG-IP 10200v mainly for data-center use, protecting servers. Adding stateful firewall capability at very high rates is one part of that strategy.

Another part is iRules, an existing feature that allows users to inspect, modify, and reroute traffic based on HTTP and HTTPS headers. IRules use a syntax similar to many scripting languages. For network managers without scripting skills, the F5 appliance includes some canned iRules for common tasks, such as redirecting HTTP requests to HTTPS, or preventing Windows Mobile users from being locked out when they've changed their passwords in Active Directory but not on their mobile devices.

Both firewall and iRules can be configured via command-line or Web interfaces. The Web interface will look familiar to anyone who's used F5 load balancers. We don't have a lot of experience with F5 gear, but found the Web UI generally easy to navigate.

Another server protection feature is built-in denial-of-service attack (DoS) protection. The device includes nearly 40 DoS filters, all enabled by default. These filters work at layers 2-4, and cover both IPv4 and IPv6. (The firewall also works with IPv6 traffic, but time constraints limited us to testing with IPv4 traffic.)

More DoS protection comes from the IP-Intelligence feature, which identifies and blocks IP addresses for various classes of threats. Using information from a worldwide sensor network, IP-Intelligence can block traffic from botnets, Windows exploits, phishing exploits, and other classes of threats. IP-Intelligence is not enabled by default, and we did not use it in performance testing.


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