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citrix netscaler vs f5 big-ip: load balancers & web application acceleration

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 cloself 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.

This article is part of the GWB Archives. Original Author: matt watson

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