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Matt Watson Software developer, product visionary, and master of #dadops

So we have outgrown our current load balancer solution (LVS) and we decided to step up and get a device that can help accelerate our web applications. We have dozens of web servers and our current load balancing solution simply couldn't cut it anymore.

Both BIG-IP and Netscaler and very sophisticated devices. Here are some of the features they provide:

  • Layer 7 traffic routing and content modification
  • Load balancing including via cookies
  • Global load balancing for multiple sites
  • SSL offloading
  • HTTP compression offloading
  • Server health monitoring
  • Application firewall
  • Advanced caching

I looked at Netscaler and F5 both very closely but quickly figured out that F5 seemed to be very proud of their products. Their intial prices quotes were TWICE what Netscaler was and did LESS functionality!

The best thing about the Netscaler device is it can run all of the Netscaler features on one hardware device or via their virtual appliances. F5 doesn't have virtual appliances and you can only run a couple "modules" on their hardware devices at a time. Netscaler will also let you use a bandwidth restricted version of their virtual appliace for free! It's always nice to have a dev device.

Netscaler's pricing was very simple and easy to follow via 3 pricing tiers. F5's pricing model is a nightmare as they try and part and parcel every little thing to nickel and dime you. F5's website is very confusing to understand their "product modules" vs "feature modules" and how they all relate. They need to simplify their sales materials and pricing structure.

Netscaler has a great java based user interface that seemed very easy to use and had robust reporting. F5 had a web based user interface that seemed easy to use but it wasn't as robust and lacked the advanced UI features that java can provide.

F5 is really excited about their "irules". But Netscaler seems to also have very flexible rules via a point and click policy builder that does most of the some functions. Which to me is better than learning some special F5 programming language. (BTW F5, I don't have any idea what TCL is, I'm a .NET developer... but my son likes to be tickled.)

F5 did have some neat features that Netscaler didn't have. Mainly some of the advanced functions of their Webaccelator module. Netscaler only does content caching in memory but F5 offers caching content to disk as well so it could cache more data. Netscaler also has a cool unique "push" feature that might be really useful for web based chat and other products. Something we could actually use. 

F5 also bashed Netscaler a lot because not all of their stuff uses their new nCore functions yet. Which I am to understand means allowing all of their software to be fully multithreaded across all the CPU cores. But F5 also never said their own software was multithreaded... so I think they were throwing Netscaler under the bus on something they didn't even do.

F5 is supposedly the market leader. But charging the most doesn't make you market leader in my book. So in the end it was an easy decision for us to go with Netscaler. Not because they were cheaper but they defintely provided the most value for price/performance. We ended up getting better hardware from Netscaler for half what F5 originally sent us a quote for, plus we got more features! (I know it is fuzzy math, but I think that is better.)

We only looked at those two vendors very closely. We are excited about getting our new Netscalers up and running and will post an update after we have used them for a while.

 Now we need to find a way for DevOps teams to have better access to load balancers!

Posted on Saturday, December 26, 2009 8:11 PM | Back to top


Comments on this post: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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Nice comparison. I completely agree with you. F5 are struggling to maintain their spot as leader. Next year Citrix will overtake them.

Good choice!
Left by Anonymous on Dec 28, 2009 10:23 PM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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Matt,

Your point re: pricing and models is well taken. It is difficult to balance options (a.k.a. a la carte style) versus prescriptive product definition (a.k.a. you get what we say you get). The former creates complexity in pricing and the latter limits customer choice. We tend to err on the side of complexity because it offers more choices for customers. That isn't optimal for every customer, of course. I have felt the same way dealing with enterprise-class software pricing, FWIW.

TCL is a scripting language along the lines of PERL and common in the Linux/Unix world as a shell scripting option. You mention you're a .NET developer, so it makes complete sense that you're not familiar with it. As a former developer I agree it was a bit confusing at first to move from traditional programming languages to a loosely-typed scripting language, but it is pretty easy (in my experience, at least) to pick up.

The number of modules you can run on a specific hardware platform is determined by the hardware capabilities and whether we have thoroughly tested the modules together. On high-end platforms you can run many modules, on the lowest only one or two. It's a matter of ensuring there are enough CPU and memory resources to execute functionality without impeding performance.

On the subject of nCore, F5 employs a purpose built system called CMP (Clustered MultiProcessing) that utilizes all CPUs and cores.

This white paper explains CMP and how it's applied: http://www.f5.com/pdf/white-papers/viprion-clustered-multiprocessing-wp.pdf.

You're right - market leadership isn't determined by price; it's determined by flexibility, innovation, ability to execute on product advancement, and the ability of products to fulfill customer needs. Analysts continue to rate F5 as the global leader in application delivery, and F5 continues to see its market share growing year after year.

However there are certainly instances where other solutions are a better fit for a given organization based on budget and specific need, and it sounds like at the moment you have what you need to move forward on your projects.

I'm pleased you wrote on the subject in general, being a developer, and exhibit a strong understanding of application delivery and its application. The number of developers who really "get" application delivery and how it fits into architecture is growing, and that's certainly an important piece of the puzzle as environments continue to become more complex and integrated.

Best of luck,
Lori

Full Disclosure: I am an employee of F5 Networks.
Left by Lori MacVittie on Dec 30, 2009 8:07 AM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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So far our install is going very well. This Netscaler is awesome!
Left by Matt Watson on Jan 14, 2010 10:26 PM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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Moreover, Netscaler VPX express is free so you can installed in a Virtual environment and test it.
Left by Carlos Gomez on Jan 20, 2010 9:43 AM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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Netscaler superb. trouble-free installations.
Left by diyet on Apr 21, 2010 3:19 AM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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现在我们也遇到了同样的问题,在F5和Citrix Netscaler之间,我想我们的选择也许会和Matt一样,在于Citrix Netscaler出会的WEB管理界面和简单的价格体系。
Left by nicemood on May 28, 2010 3:03 AM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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what a windows pussy (.net developer?) , is so obvious you can't handle CLI power ..
Left by smart_cli on Jul 12, 2010 12:41 AM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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Netscaler rocks. We have been using it for 5 years. Now we have mpx10500 with application firewall. We have tested F5 and it didn't work with existing netscaler configuration. It was 6900 something similar. We did similar config as we did on netscaler. And he didn't handle all web traffic proberly. WAF feature of F5 is baby.
So if you have HTTP APP , you have only one option that is Netscaler.
Left by Bobby Daly on Jul 22, 2010 12:22 PM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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BTW F5 also offers a Virtual Edition of it's software so you can test on limited BW as well....

You really should have done more homework before you purchased netscaler... Call me at 4am when that thing just suddenly "dies" or is "slow"....

Fact of the matter is the shear knowledge, people, and implementations of F5 make it a better choice...

We had Netscalers... We're a huge shop and we had tons of issues.. I don't even know where to begin with that... not even technically.. but personal wise trying to receive support... When we switched to F5 we ALWAYS found help... Always... whether it's with our SE or online with their huge community at devcentral...

If you want to do round robin load balancing cheap with a handful of servers.. buy a cheap netscaler and get what you pay for...

I you want to do low latency intelligent Application Delivery Controller (not just a "Load Balancer" with the flexibility of a ninja.. buy an F5 BigIP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) and rest assured the hammer isn't going to come down on you from management.. just my 2c from real world experience..
Left by justsomeguyontheinternet on Oct 15, 2010 4:06 AM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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Really Useful article!
thanks you perfect write...
Left by Ahmet Kaya Dinle on Mar 05, 2011 6:23 PM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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Hey Matt,

Now that you've lived with the Netscalar box for a while, does this post still hold? Do you still feel you made the best decision?

Ken
Left by Ken Stieers on May 04, 2011 2:55 PM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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ms windows moronS...
Left by antimoron on Sep 09, 2011 3:20 AM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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Hi Matt,

I am at the kick off stage of a remote access service upgrade and we are looking at evaluating both the F5 and Netscalers. I came across this post and wondered how the netscalers turned out for you?

Cheers.

Simon.
Left by Simon Marley on Sep 15, 2011 10:59 AM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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We had ISA's and then we had netscalers, and now we have f5 and our troubles have more than halved. The reputation of IT people has been ruined by ms morons like you.
Left by Dean on Mar 21, 2012 11:37 PM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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It has been 2 years since I wrote this post. 2 years later the Netscalers still work like a charm. Never had an issue with them.
Left by Matt Watson on Sep 23, 2012 8:52 PM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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Gartner Magic Quadrant Q4 2012 - F5 is still the market leader in Application Delivery Control (with an approximate 53% share of the market) so they must be doing something right!

We have also been very impressed with their ASM Application Security Manager - Web Application Firewall.

They now also have virtual editions of most of their products - LTM load balancing upto 3 gbps.
Left by Ryan Greaves on Jan 14, 2013 3:10 PM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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The problem with Gartner is that you pay to be on their list. OK information but perhaps a little skewed
Left by Troy - IT Security Professional on Apr 08, 2013 9:46 AM

# Load Balancers
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Thanks for such a nice blog. It presents multi-unit clustering for 99.999% submission uptime and data center scalability. By leveraging robust and powerful circulation algorithms, health check means and fail over capabilities. burden balances, therefore, supply a strategic point of command for optimizing the accessibility, security and presentation of enterprise submissions, IP data services and data center gear.
Left by server load balancer on Apr 25, 2013 3:51 AM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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We are using F5 for a while now, have pretty much everything from virtual edition to Viprions. Its an excellent product with a lots of support, excellent and easy to use GUI and once you set it up, it just runs without any problems

Not saying one product is better than others never used NetScaller, but I am sure its an excellent product, it boils down to individual implementations.

Regarding price the only thing that can be said that the product that knows its value and knows its leader will always be expensive, where as the rest competing products will always try to lure with lower prices and extra perks.
Left by Dany Lopez on Apr 28, 2014 8:48 AM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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What are your thoughts on Kemp Tech? http://kemptechnologies.com/
Left by Kyle on May 14, 2014 11:09 AM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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Can anyone help me with performance impact of WAF inspection service for a Citrix platform? I think the numbers they have in specs are for loadbalancing. How will that change if I turn on WAF inspection?
Left by Sean on Jun 23, 2014 10:18 AM

# re: Citrix Netscaler vs F5 Big-IP: Load Balancers & Web Application Acceleration
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hello Matt

its now been about 4+ years since you first wrote this post, how are your netscalers, what are your recent thoughts on F5, can you still sleep easy? Please a prompt reply would be really appreciated as I am conducting a researching on what device to go with based on some of the comparisons you have made and others found on other blogs/forums like this
Left by Lolu on Aug 01, 2014 6:31 AM

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