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F5 Synthesis: Your Gateway to the Future (of HTTP)

If you haven't heard about HTTP 2.0 it's time to start paying attention

#SDAS #HTTP #webperf #SSL De facto standards can be as difficult to transition off of as official ones

synthesis-logoIf you haven't heard about HTTP 2.0 it's time to start paying attention. It is anticipated that in November the latest version of the specification will become "the standard" for applications.

It includes enhancements designed to improve the security and performance of web applications, which have become critical strategic components to just about every organization on the planet. Go ahead, name an organization that doesn't rely on at least one web-based application to conduct business today.

Exactly.

Performance and security being imperatives along with the presence of applications means that HTTP 2.0 should be a welcome addition to the family of Internet protocols. But it will likely be met with some amount of trepidation by those tasked with supporting it on the data center side of applications because one of the downsides of updating standard protocols after so many years (HTTP 1.1 was ratified in RFC 2616 in 1999) is that they're rarely compatible. That's because in technology years, that 15 years is more like 75 years.

Consider for a moment IPv6, which was officially standardized way back in 1995 (RFC1883).

Yes, I said 1995. Before the great dot bomb. Before Web 2.0. Before mobile apps.

And how's that been going for us? Well, as of May 2014 more than 96% of all Internet traffic was still carried via IPv4. Go ahead, read that again because you're right - a 4% adoption rate over nearly 20 years is somewhat hard to swallow, isn't it?

But, you might think, IP affects everything. We're only talking about apps, here. And web apps, at that.

Well, let's consider that for a moment. According to our data, 65% of all apps are delivered via HTTP right now. in other words, HTTP is pretty darned important to app delivery and it'd be pretty hard to convince someone to upgrade all the things that need upgrading in order to support HTTP 2.0 (particularly with its requirement for encryption via SSL or TLS).

And yet major browsers (and consumer demand for speed, more speed and even MOAR SPEED) are already pushing adoption by broadly supporting SPDY (the protocol upon which HTTP 2.0 is based and which is the primary cause behind compatibility headaches). According to this site, which tracks SPDY adoption across browsers, all major browsers already have at least partial (if not full) support for SPDY.

They're ready to go. The app side? Not so much.

That's where an app gateway comes into play.

App Gateway: Bridging the Old and the New

Like IPv6, the answer to the conundrum of transitioning from one protocol to another is a gateway. In the case of HTTP, it's an app gateway because HTTP is an app layer protocol.

In the latest release of the ADC platform on which F5 Synthesis High Performance Services Fabric is built we've included both SPDY 1.3 and HTTP 2.0 support, enabling a gateway architectural approach to supporting the latest (soon to be) standard and the existing, more prominent one. This architectural feat is accomplished by way of BIG-IP's full proxy architecture, which lets our ADC speak one version a protocol on the outside (the client) and another on the inside (to the app).

app gatewayBut what about all that security stuff you might ask. The requirement for SSL and TLS is as disruptive as the changes to the core protocol, after all.

You're right, it is, but again - the nature of being a full proxy means we can support SSL or TSL on the outside and plain old HTTP on the inside, sans encryption. While some organizations require end-to-end encryption of all traffic, those that don't will benefit from the ability to leverage client-side (outside) encryption without doing so on the inside (server-side) where lots of Layer 4-7 services may need visibility into traffic to do their respective jobs.

Using a gateway approach also enables a mix of HTTP 2.0 and HTTP 1.x on the inside (server side). That means organizations can take a transitory approach to adoption of the latest app protocol, moving if and when it seems most prudent based on upgrade and refresh cycles, not standards body meeting schedules.

The performance and security (and let's not forget business) benefits to moving to HTTP 2.0 with its SSL/TLS requirements and improvements in core transport of data between client and server are worth exploring. But it's understandable that a protocol so entrenched like HTTP 1.x is not easily ripped out and replaced with something new. Taking a gateway approach to adoption enables organizations to support the old while exploring the new and making sure that consumers and employees using the latest and greatest browsers will be able to enjoy improved performance and productivity.

http 2.0 gateway synthesis

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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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