What is BIG-IP Next?

BIG-IP Next LTM and BIG-IP Next WAF hit general availability back in October, and we hit the road for a tour around North America for its arrival party! Those who attended one of our F5 Academy sessions got a deep-dive presentation into BIG-IP Next conceptually, and then a lab session to work through migrating workloads and deploying them. I got to attend four of the events and discuss with so many fantastic community members what's old, what's new, what's borrowed, what's blue...no wait--this is no wedding! 

But for those of us who've been around the block with BIG-IP for a while, if not married to the tech, we definitely have a relationship with it, for better and worse, right? And that's earned. So any time something new, or in our case "Next" comes around, there's risk and fear involved personally. But don't fret. Seriously. It's going to be different in a lot of ways, but it's going to be great. And there are a crap-ton (thank you Mark Rober!) of improvements that once we all make it through the early stages, we'll embrace and wonder why we were even scared in the first place. So with all that said, will you come on the journey with me? In this first of many articles to come from me this year, I'll cover the high-level basics of what is so next about BIG-IP Next, and in future entries we'll be digging into the tech and learning together.

BIG-IP and BIG-IP Next Conceptually - A Comparison

BIG-IP has been around since before the turn of the century (which is almost old enough to rent a car here in the United States) and this year marks the 20 year anniversary of TMOS. That the traffic management microkernel (TMM) is still grokking like a boss all these years later is a testament to that early innovation! So whereas TMOS as a system is winding down, it's heart, TMM, will go on (cue sappy Celine Dion ditty in 3, 2, 1...) Let's take a look at what was and what is.

With TMOS, the data plane and control plane compete for resources as it's one big system. With BIG-IP, the separation of duties is more explicit and intentionally designed to scale on the control plane. Also, the product modules are no longer either completely integrated in TMM or plugins to TMM, but rather, isolated to their own container structures. The image above might convey the idea that LTM or WAF or any of the other modules are single containers, but that's just shown that way for brevity. Each module is an array of containers. But don't let that scare you. The underlying kubernetes architecture is an abstraction that you may--but certainly are not required to--care about.

TMM continues to be its awesome TMM self. The significant change operationally is how you interact with BIG-IP. With TMOS, historically you engage directly with each device, even if you have some other tools like BIG-IQ or third-party administration/automation platforms. With BIG-IP Next, everything is centralized on Central Manager, and the BIG-IP Next instances, whether they are running on rSeries, VELOS, or Virtual Edition, are just destinations for your workloads. In fact, outside of sidecar proxies for troubleshooting, instance logins won't even be supported!

Yes, this is a paradigm shift. With BIG-IP Next, you will no longer be configuration-object focused. You will be application-focused. You'll still have the nerd-knobs to tweak and turn, but they'll be done within the context of an application declaration. If you haven't started your automation journey yet, you might not be familiar with AS3. It's been out now for years and works with BIG-IP to deploy applications declaratively. Instead of following a long pre-flight checklist with 87 steps to go from nothing to a working application, you simply define the parameters of your application in a blob of JSON data and click the easy button. For BIG-IP Next, this is the way. Now, in the Central Manager GUI, you might interact with FAST templates that deliver a more traditional view into configuring applications, but the underlying configuration engine is all AS3. For more, I hosted a series of streams in December to introduce AS3 Foundations, I highly recommend you take the time to digest the basics.

Benefits I'm Excited About

There are many and you can read about them on the product page on F5.com. But here's my short list:

API-first. Period. BIG-IP had APIs with iControl from the era before APIs were even cool, but they were not first-class citizens. The resulting performance at scale requires effort to manage effectively. Not only performance, but feature parity among iControl REST, iControl SOAP, tmsh, and the GUI has been a challenge because of the way development occurred over time. Not so with BIG-IP Next. Everything is API-first, so all tooling is able to consume everything. This is huge!

Migration assistance. Central Manager has the JOURNEYS tool on sterroids built-in to the experience. Upload your UCS, evaluate your applications to see what can be migrated without updates, and deploy! It really is that easy. Sure, there's work to be done for applications that aren't fully compatible yet, but it's a great start. You can do this piece (and I recommend that you do) before you even think about deploying a single instance just to learn what work you have ahead of you and what solutions you might need to adapt to be ready. 

Simplified patch/upgrade process. If you know, you know...patches are upgrades with BIG-IP, and not in place at that. This is drastically improved with BIG-IP Next! Because of the containerized nature of the system, individual containers can be targeted for patching, and depending on the container, may not even require a downtime consideration.

Release cycle. A more frequent release cadence might terrify the customers among us that like to space out their upgrades to once every three years or so, but for the rest of us, feature delivery to the tune of weeks instead of twice per year is an exciting development (pun intended!)

Features I'm Excited About

Versioning for iRules and policies. For those of us who write/manage these things, this is huge! Typically I'd version by including it in the title, and I know some who set release tags in repos. With Central Manager, it's built-in and you can deploy iRules and polices by version and do diffs in place. I'm super excited about this!

Did I mention the API? On the API front...it's one API, for all functionality. No digging and scraping through the GUI, tmsh, iControl REST, iControl SOAP, building out a node.js app to deploy a custom API endpoint with iControl LX, if even possible with some of the modules like APM or ASM. Nope, it's all there in one API. Glorious. 

Centralized dashboards. This one is for the Ops teams! Who among us has spent many a day building custom dashboards to consume stats from BIG-IPs across your org to have a single pane of glass to manage? I for one, and I'm thrilled to see system, application, and security data centralized for analysis and alerting.

Log/metric streaming. And finally, logs and metrics! Telemetry Streaming from the F5 Automation Toolchain doesn't come forward in BIG-IP Next, but the ideas behind it do. If you need your data elsewhere from Central Manager, you can set up remote logging with OpenTelemetry (see the link in the resources listed below for a first published example of this.)

There are some great features coming with DNS, Access, and all the other modules when they are released as well. I'll cover those when they hit general availability.

Let's Go!

In the coming weeks, I'll be releasing articles on installation and licensing walk-throughs for Central Manager and the instances, and content from our awesome group of authors is already starting to flow as well. Here are a few entries you can feast your eyes on, including an instance Proxmox installation:

Are you ready? Grab a trial license from your MyF5 dashboard and get going! And make sure to join us in the BIG-IP Next Academy group here on DevCentral. The launch team is actively engaged there for next-related questions/issues, so that's the place to be in your early journey!

Also...if you want the ultimate jump-start for all things BIG-IP Next, join us at AppWorld 2024 in SanJose next month!


Updated Feb 15, 2024
Version 7.0

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