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F5 Citrix Comparison Essay

There are a number of different solutions on the market today which offer Virtual Private Network (VPN) functionality. Sometimes these solutions are included as part of a comprehensive suite of solutions and other times, they are offered as standalone products. This article will take a look at the top five enterprise VPN solutions available today.

F5 Networks VPN Solutions

The F5 Networks VPN solution was once offered both as a standalone product and as a part of a comprehensive suite. However, following the recent reorganization, it seems that F5 is looking to push only the offering that is part of the BIG-IP and Viprion comprehensive products. Whether this is a problem or not depends on the specific implementation, but it seems that the standalone VPN appliance may be at the end of its deployment life.

F5's specific software module that includes VPN functionality is the Access Policy Manager (APM). This module includes a lot of different functions, including the ability to connect through the deployed appliance using F5's BIG-IP Edge Client. This client is offered for all common desktop and mobile platforms. The amount of performance offered depends on the specific platform that the module is deployed on.

The BIG-IP Edge VPN Client uses TLS (transport layer security) and DTLS (datagram TLS) for its connection from the client to the appliance, allowing for delay sensitive and delay insensitive appliances to run without problems.

F5's BIG-IP and VIPRION offerings are quite wide in terms of range of available processing power. The BIG-IP appliances are individual appliances with static hardware specifications which can be sized depending on the specific implementation. F5's Viprion is a blade based platform that offers options for very large implementations. Finding specific VPN statistics using F5 resources however, has proven to be challenging as none of these types of statistics are commonly promoted in their data sheets. Nevertheless, here are some of F5's devices and the relevant information.

F5's physical appliances start at the BIG-IP 1600 and go up to the BIG-IP 11050, which is their largest standalone appliance. F5's largest blade option is the Viprion 4800 Chassis, which offers up to eight blades , each of which offer the following specifications:

Included/Maximum SSL Transactions per Section (TPS)
F5 BIG-IP 1600500/1,000
F5 BIG-IP 11050500/20,000
F5 Viprion 4800 Chassis
(4340N Blade)

F5 also offers virtual appliances which are able to run the same modules as the physical appliances including the APM used for VPN. Keep in mind as well that the pricing for these appliances is based on the customer using these devices not just for VPN, but also as Appliance Delivery Controllers (ADC).

Read: A Guide to Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs)

Cisco VPN Solutions

Like F5, Cisco's VPN solution is based on a number of products that offer more than VPN termination. The AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client is the main piece of software sitting in the middle of Cisco's VPN solution. It is able to be run on all common desktop and mobile operating systems and offers not only support for VPNs, but also other security functionality. For Cisco's VPN functionality, AnyConnect offers support for TLS, DTLS and IPsec IKEv2; these support the majority of traffic types that would typically be supported over remote connections.

The AnyConnect client must of course be supported by a backend VPN termination solution; for this it uses either a model from the ASA 5500-X series or a Cisco IOS device running version 15.1(2)T or higher (although limited in client functionality). This second group of devices allows the client to be used in an expansive number of reasonably priced devices providing the ability to support VPN termination on a very small scale.

On a smaller sized platform, Cisco's 1941, 2900 and 3900 series platforms all support hardware acceleration for DES, 3DES and AES for both IPsec and SSL VPNs. As for performance metrics, the only thing Cisco provides is the IPsec performance:

Tunnels SupportedThroughput
Cisco 1941
(using ISM-VPN module)
Up to 500Up to 550 Mbps using 1400-bytes sized packets
Cisco 2900 series
(using ISM-VPN module)
Up to 2,000Up to 900 Mbps using 1400-bytes sized packets
(highest series model – 2951)
Cisco 3900 series
(using ISM-VPN module)
Up to 3,000Up to 1,200 Mbps using 1400-bytes sized packets
(highest series model – 3945)

From here there are a number of different IOS device options, including many IOS-based switches up to the 6500 series switch, which offers VPN specific hardware acceleration modules.

VPN concentration services are also available through Cisco's ASA 5500-X series next generation firewall platforms.

Tunnels SupportedThroughput
Cisco ASA 5512-X
(smallest option)
Up to 3,000Up to 200 Mbps
Cisco ASA 5555-X
(middle option)
Up to 5,000Up to 700 Mbps
Cisco ASA 5585-X w/SSP-60Up to 10,000Up to 5 Gbps

Citrix VPN Solutions

Citrix VPN access solution is integrated into the NetScaler Gateway product. The NetScaler gateway, like NetScaler itself, is highly customizable and integrated into many Citrix product lines. However, it is not limited to just Citrix shops. The NetScaler Gateway offers more than SSL VPN functionality, including secure access to Citrix XenDesktop, XenApp, and XenMobile sessions, as well as secure network access to any server, along with device analysis and determination. The Citrix Gateway has support for both TLS and DTLS sessions, depending on the traffic requirements.

The Citrix Gateway is included in some form in all editions of the NetScaler ADC appliance and is fully integrated into Citrix applications. It can be deployed as either a virtual appliance or as part of an appliance solution.

The licensing is a bit confusing depending on the specific platforms that are deployed, or are going to be deployed. It is my recommendation to go over the options available with a Citrix representative before making a final decision on which VPN solution to choose, especially if other Citrix applications are or are going to be deployed into the target environment. Generally there are two different types of licenses: Platform licenses and Universal licenses. Most of the SSL VPN functionality requires a universal license.

The following specifications are from some of the available NetScaler appliances that can be used to deploy the NetScaler gateway solution:

The lowest level MPX platform is the 5550 (upgradable to the 5650), and the latest is the 22120, both of which include the following specifications:

Included/Maximum SSL Transactions per Section (TPS)
Citrix NetScaler MPX 55501,500
Citrix NetScaler MPX 22120560,000   

Dell SonicWALL VPN Solutions

With the acquisition of SonicWALL, Dell now offers a line of appliances that are dedicated to secure mobile and remote access, including the SRA appliances and the E-Class SRA appliances. The SRA appliances are focused on SMB environments with less than 500 employees; they are more limited in the extra functionality than their bigger E-Class brothers. The E-Class SRA appliances are not limited to being only used for VPN concentrators, but include mobility management as well as protection from malware and rogue device access protection, and bring your own device (BYOD) registration and policy management, to name a few.

The SRA appliances are split into three main offerings: SRA 1600, SRA 4600 and SRA virtual appliance. The following tables lists their relevant specifications:

Included/Maximum Users
Dell SonicWALL SRA 16005/50 (no more than 25 recommended)
Dell SonicWALL SRA 460025/500 (no more than 100 recommended)
Dell SonicWALL SRA Virtual Appliance5/500
Dell SonicWALL EX600025/250
Dell SonicWALL EX700050/5,000
Dell SonicWALL EX9000100/20,000
Dell SonicWALL EX Virtual Appliance5/5,000

Pulse Secure (Formerly Juniper) VPN Solutions

Pulse Secure's solution to the problem of mobile and remote access is a suite of applications which includes Pulse Secure MAG Gateway, Pulse Connect Secure and Plus Policy Secure. The Pulse Connect Secure product offers end user connectivity and security from any off-premises device via SSL VPN using either clientless access via a browser or via the Pulse Secure client. Pulse Policy Secure offers an advanced network access control solution with tight integration with Pulse Connect Secure.

The Pulse Secure MAG gateway platform includes four different physical appliance options along with a virtual appliance; the following tables lists their relevant specifications:

Maximum Concurrent SSL SessionsMaximum Concurrent Policy Secure Users
MAG 2600
(Connect Secure OR Pulse Secure)

MAG 4610
(Connect Secure OR Pulse Secure)

(per chassis - 2 SM)(per chassis - 2 SM)
MAG 6610
(Connect Secure And/Or Pulse Secure depending on secure module installed (2))

(per chassis - 4 SM)(per chassis - 4 SM)
MAG 6611
(Connect Secure And/Or Pulse Secure depending on secure module installed (4))


Along with the evolution of networks in general has come the need to maintain mechanisms to keep traffic safe from outside intrusions. VPNs provide one of the pieces in this puzzle that offer organizations the ability to maintain a flexible and possibly mobile workforce, along with high levels of security. As with other technologies, VPN has seen considerable changes as the need and requirements of enterprises have changed.

It does seem that the wind is certainly pushing the individual standalone VPN concentrator to be a thing of the past, as it is integrated further into Application Delivery Controllers (ADC), Next Generation Firewalls (NGFW) and Unified Threat Management (UTM) appliances. Even the two relatively standalone options discussed in this article (like SonicWALL and Pulse Secure) are full of integrated and optional features that fill the void with other similarly placed features.

It's now much more difficult to separate a unified appliance into its component parts, in order to pull out the information that is just relevant to the VPN functionality. Some vendors, especially those that take the unified approach (like Citrix), are particularly weak in offering information on the application of a specific feature, without actually having to review configuration articles and getting rather deep into their support information. This is something to be aware of when looking for a VPN solution; know that the information is available somewhere, even if that means calling the vendor to get it.

On most modern networks, a remote access solution is something that most companies already have in place. It is also likely that if you're reading this article, you're looking to upgrade your current VPN solution with a modern equivalent. With BYOD becoming increasingly common and with threats continuing to build on a day to day basis, or more correctly minute by minute pace, these newer solutions offer both flexibility and additional security that meets the demands of modern networks. Hopefully the material covered in this article will give you some assistance in how to begin this journey.


Enterprise Strategy Group Lab Report

Performance vs Cost: High Performance Virtual Load Balancer

Comparing the throughput of high performance virtual load balancers (5Gb+) from KEMP, F5 and Citrix, the KEMP VLM- 5000 and 10G provides the same throughput 5/10 Gbps as F5’s Big-IP LTM VE-10G at a significantly lower cost.

See detailed hardware and virtual load balancer comparisons for full feature list comparison.

The charts below compare hardware and virtual load balancers from similar categories in price, throughput and throughput per $. KEMP Load Balancers provide comparable features and significant cost per Mb of throughput advantages over F5 and Citrix

Performance vs Cost: High Performance Hardware Load Balancer

The KEMP LoadMaster LM-8000 high performance load balancer provides more throughput per $1 than the F5 Big-IP i5800/i7800 and Citrix MPX.

Performance vs Cost: Mid-Range Hardware Load Balancer

Comparing mid-range load balancers, the KEMP LoadMaster LM-4000 delivers almost four times (4x) the throughput per $ of the F5 Big-IP i4800 while the F5 BIG-IP 2800 and Citrix MPX 8005 performance per $ is even lower.

Performance vs Cost: Mid-Range Virtual Load Balancer

The KEMP VLM-2000 provides similar throughput as the F5 BIG-IP LTM VE-1G/5G and Citrix NetScaler VPX-1000/3000 for at least 1/3 of the cost.

Performance vs Cost: Entry Virtual Load Balancer

When comparing the KEMP VLM-200 to the F5 BIG-IP LTM VE-200M and Citrix NetScaler VPX 200, the KEMP VLM-200 provides the same throughput as F5 and Citrix at ½ and ¼ quarter of the cost respectively.

Hardware Load Balancer SSL Transactions

The KEMP LoadMaster LM-8000 provides SSL TPS (transactions per second) at a fraction of the cost per TPS when compared to both the F5 BIG-IP i7800 and the Citrix MPX 11520.

Virtual Load Balancer SSL Transactions

The KEMP VLM-10G supports 3x more SSL TPS than the F5 BIG-IP LTM VE-10G at a 66% lower cost and 4.5x the SSL TPS than the Citrix NetScaler VPX-3000.

Listed prices are USD-based MSRP and subject to change without prior notice. Prices vary by country and exclude local taxes, duties and transportation charges. Please contact your local KEMP office or authorized distributor for further pricing information specific to your country. All LoadMasters must be licensed prior to use in the country where they were purchased and are subject to local licensing and trade regulations.

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