F5 Advanced WAF Review

Time and patience in customizing this solution are rewarded in creating a solid line of defense


What is our primary use case?

What a WAF is happens to be exactly what we are using F5 WAF for: a firewall for our web applications. It is a totally customizable solution. You have our signature-based rule sets and then we can customize to our heart's content depending on what our application can and can not do or what we are trying to protect against.  

So we are using this for anything that is internet-facing. We are applying the WAF there and we are putting it in block mode wherever possible.  

What is most valuable?

The features I think are the most valuable starts with the IP intelligence component. That is separately licensed and it is definitely one component that we have made heavy use of. Geo-blocking is another — which can be done without a WAF because you do not necessarily need a WAF to do it — but the F5 WAF has those capabilities.  

The signature-based controls that F5 has are another one of the heavier-used components that Advanced WAF has. We do not have to worry about updating signatures, et cetera. WAF will automatically update the signatures for us. I think that is a nice feature.  

Those are the biggest things that we are making use of month-to-month.  

What needs improvement?

I think the contextual-based component needs a lot of help. It is all based on regular-expressions. That is something I think companies like Signal Sciences are doing a really good job with. We are transitioning off to Signal Sciences on some of our WAF components because of the capabilities Signal Science has. I think that contextual-base signatures would definitely help in F5 WAF.  

For how long have I used the solution?

Within the enterprise, F5 Advanced WAF (Web Application Firewall) has been rolled out for about six or seven years. I have been working on it for about three to four years.  

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It is a stable product.  

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

F5 WAF is a scalable solution. A lot of the employees and other end-users (virtually anybody on the internet who is coming to your site) benefit from the solution. As far as the people who are directly dealing with the administration, maintenance, and deploying the updates, there are maybe two people. But it can certainly scale-out to service passive use.  

How are customer service and technical support?

The F5 tech supports is fairly decent. It is not the top of the line, but they do their job. They give you an account team. The account teams are normally really responsive. When you need to run something by them, they are unlike some other products. With other products you have to go through opening up a ticket — because that is the only way they will respond to you — and later they might come back and say it is not their problem and you need to figure it out on your own. The F5 is very different from that perspective in providing support. Your account team is your go-to group. They will walk you through solutions, help you design solutions, and it is part of the value add of using F5Advanced WAF. I really liked them for the extra effort they put in to provide good support. They do not upsell professional services or anything like that. Because of that, I would rate them a little on the higher side for support than just your average support experience.  

How was the initial setup?

The installation of F5 Advanced WAF is complex. Any WAF that you put in takes a lot of time to install correctly. You never really just drop it in and have it working right off the bat. The only exception I can say that I have come across to that right now is Signal Sciences. You can literally drop that solution in place and put it in blocking mode within the same day. With F5 there is a learning period where you allow it to learn and then you go back because it is based on regular expressions. So you have to go through and check to see that there is normal traffic going through your site, et cetera. In other words, there is training involved. It can take from seven to fourteen days before you get a good signature set up.  

If you just need to turn on the licensing key, that might take 10 seconds to do and that is available essentially immediately when you implement WAF. But when you are talking about implementation — and this is true with any WAF — it is time-consuming. You are integrating a piece of technology with applications that have already been written. It might be a legacy app, it might be a new app or whatever that you use for whatever your use case might be for that application. You are using WAF in order to protect that app. You have to invest time in creating the signatures. That period of time where you are creating the signature is what is complex and extends the period of the implementation.  

That is what I think the true difference is between F5 WAF and the new-gen stuff like Signal Sciences is. With Signal Sciences you literally can just drop in and turn it on.  

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

F5's licensing varies. I do not know exactly what the individual WAF component costs because they bundle up services and the bundle is what I pay for. I do not pay for individual components.  

What other advice do I have?

Advice that I would give to people considering F5 WAF is to look at and consider other products as well. They have to make sure they know what they are getting into. That is key to finding the right solution. I think WAF requires a lot of time and patience as well as an understanding of your applications in order to make the best use of its capabilities.  

On a scale from one to ten (where one is the worst and ten is the best), I would rate the F5 Advanced WAF as a solid eight-out-of-ten.  

**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
More F5 Advanced WAF reviews from users
...who work at a Financial Services Firm
...who compared it with Signal Sciences
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