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The Application Delivery Deus Ex Machina

In storytelling a deus ex machina is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, its use is often attributed to the author’s inability to resolve a plot point and thus divine intervention, or some other too-good-to-be-true coincidental discovery of a vital piece of information, is used to solve the problem. The term comes from Greek plays in which the gods descended from the heavens to solve an unsolvable problem for mere mortals. In those times a primitive machine was used to lower the “gods” from the heavens onto the stage, hence the term which translates as “god from machine”.

While many IT personnel have almost certainly prayed on any number of long, frustrating evenings for a deus ex machina solution to some problem with which they were struggling, the reality is that very few “machines” can suddenly drop out of the sky into the network and solve all application-related problems. Unlike storytelling, however, the existence of a deus ex machina solution would certainly be a good thing and having one drop out of the sky would be, if you’ll pardon the pun, a god-send.

While no such beast exists completely today, a unified application delivery platform comes pretty close.


Application delivery challenges, much like plots, reveal themselves over time. At first it’s simple to deliver the application, even provide for availability assurance and the reliability that comes from it. But over time more users take advantage of the application, imageoften in ways you couldn’t have predicted. The impact of higher volumes of users on the network, the servers (physical and virtual), and the entire infrastructure starts to show through odd quirks and behaviors stemming from the interaction between the main character (your application) and the antagonists (the increasing obstacles to maintaining availability and performance).

This is where unified application delivery shows up, deus ex machina, to save the day.

Before we get too far let’s address the likely thought that unified application delivery is the same thing as a “god box”. It might seem that a “god box” would follow ex vi termini from a deus ex machina but that’s not the case. A unified application delivery solution is more like a cloud-in-a-box than a god-box. Unified application delivery is the concept of building solutions atop a common application delivery platform. The solutions built atop that foundation are modular or pluggable, depending on your preferred terminology. You could even say they’re “virtual” in that they act much in the same manner as virtualization solutions: there’s a common foundation (hypervisor) upon which modules (virtual machines) can be deployed, and each module (virtual machine) may be running completely different functions (acceleration, optimization, security, authentication/authorization, caching, network layer gateway, etc…). The difference is that virtualization implies a separation and isolation of functionality that doesn’t exist in a unified application delivery platform because the “modules” or “plug-ins” in a unified application delivery system are, necessarily, integrated via a common internal high-speed messaging backbone that allows collaboration and sharing of context across all deployed modules. That’s not possible – or even desirable - with virtualization which sandboxes applications from one another. Now a “god box”, on the other hand, comes stock with everything at once – whether you need it or not. And of course the negative to that is you’re going to pay for it all, up front, whether you need it or not.

What a unified application delivery solution provides the organization is the ability to provision, nearly on-demand, the functionality necessary to address whatever application delivery challenge (antagonist) might crop up during the life of the application (plot). In this respect it’s a lot like the iPhone and its myriad applications. You could easily say, “There’s a module for that” about unified application delivery and you’d be pretty much on target. It’s sort of like cloud in that you can deploy the core platform and use its integral functions like load balancing and fault-tolerance and “as you need” more functionality you can provision it onto the same platform automagically.

Like cloud computing, that keeps the initial costs of investing in such a solution down and allows you to expand as necessary, if necessary. The ability to extend a unified application delivery platform is built-in. It isn’t something you have to specifically ask for or pay for, it just “is”. Even if you’re certain you’ll never need the extensibility, it’s still there, just in case.

Basically a unified application delivery solution affords you the opportunity to “roll your own” solution; to put together a solution with the functionality you need rather than what someone else thinks you need. If you want a web application firewall and a Load balancer together, you can do that. If you want an application acceleration and web application firewall together, you can do that. If you want an IPv6 gateway and DNSSEC, you can do that. 

It’s application delivery a la carte, allowing you tailor a solution to the unique needs of your infrastructure and applications. The on-demand nature of application delivery makes it akin to a deus ex machina because when you run into an application problem you just can’t solve it may very well be that there exists a feature, function, or module on the application delivery platform that can, which certainly makes it appear as if the solution just “dropped out of the sky.”

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More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

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