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F5 Foray: Day 1 of Learning

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts from CBT Nuggets trainer Scott Morris about his experiences learning and working with F5. 

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to actually learn something new? I mean, like completely new and not just add-on information? Well, it can be rough and tumble!f5-blog-series_EMAIL

Even for a guy who (in theory) knows everything already! Yeah, that’d be me. At least that seems to be what everyone expects and believes! So guess what? I’ll let you in on a little secret. I do NOT know everything. I pretend very well though, and will occasionally stay at Holiday Inn Express just to give everyone the impression that I do. (Actually no, I’m a Hilton-brand kinda guy, sorry folks… But marketing messages are important things as many people at least understood that reference!)

So very recently, I have been asked to create some courses on F5’s Application Delivery Networking equipment or load balancers. And interestingly enough, I have not actually touched an F5 piece of equipment in my whole career prior to this. I was actually amazed by that too, and I spent a lot of time trying to find something in the darkest recesses of my mind, but could not. I did find some other things, but we won’t talk about those here!

The good news is that F5’s load-balancing equipment isn’t all that much different at base than other brands. Yes, there are significant differences, and I’m learning many of them as I go along, but thinking purely technical fundamentals here and there is not different. And I HAVE had experience with other vendors’ load balancers over the years. Cisco, of course, has completely abandoned their line of load-balancing equipment, so they are no longer in the picture. Brocade Networks also has load balancers that perform very nicely, but there are rumors about that new development is lacking there as well. A10 Networks has some Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs) as well. There are some others out there, but I haven’t touched them before either. Just the three mentioned.

So, how exactly DOES one learn about something new then? Well… Research! What information is out there? What can be done about it? Interestingly enough, there is not a whole lot of information out there in any succinct format conducive to learning. There is plenty of information on F5’s web site, but it is more overall references or answers to specific questions. There’s no article about, “How does this work?”.

So my next answer was to get my hands on some equipment and play with it. Set it up, break it a few times, perhaps COMPLETELY mess things up until I figure out what happened, and then magically, I will know stuff. Actually, that method has worked well for me in my career, but so far with the load-balancers, I have learned lots of things that aren’t entirely helpful!

First, I picked up a couple of used ADN devices off Ebay. Then I come to find that they were just old enough to not use the current software. Only makes sense to stay vaguely current on the course that we are creating, right? But it did explain why the price point was so low! So that option was out. So I spent a little more and ordered a low-end (1600 series) piece of current equipment that will support the most recent software. I didn’t care about licenses because I’m not going to be pumping any serious information through this anyway!

Also, if you go to, you’ll find that F5 will allow you to grab a VMware version of their software as well as apply for trial licenses for your physical lab equipment. I have to wait for my hardware to arrive to complete that part. So far, FedEx showed up today during the brief time period I was at the dentist with my daughter. So now I have to wait until tomorrow. As you can tell, I am a very patient person! (NOT)

I did download the VM OVA file to play with. It mentions that it needs VMware ESXi in order to run. But of course, I know better than that, right? Yeah, well… In THEORY it will run on VMware Workstation 10 (Windows), however, my really cool slick laptop that is a work product does not allow the virtualized threading (Intel’s VT feature) to run. It’s present, I just can’t use it. So, I can’t install from the OVA or from the ISO where I tried to cheat into a 32-bit CentOS VM. I think it actually told me “Thank you for playing” in an error message, but I can’t confirm that.

The OVA file does, however, install just fine on VMware Fusion Plus on my Macbook Pro (yay, Apple!). But that’s not what I’ll be doing production stuff on, and really don’t feel like installing server functionality onto my personal laptop just to run this remotely for classes. Love you guys, but….

So my next task is to actually get VMware ESXi up and running. Fortunately for all of us, there are some beautiful Nuggets by our very own Keith Barker that may assist us in doing this! I am off to watch some of those and learn a thing or two and then install ESXi onto one of my Mac Mini computers down in my lab area.

That should keep me busy for the evening and give me enough to do until the physical box shows up tomorrow from FedEx. I am trying not to leave the house tomorrow, but I’m sure if I do that will be the period of time during which they attempt to deliver my package. Again… Karma.


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