At TechEd in Orlando, I had the opportunity to meet with Kemp Technologies. You may not have heard of the company, but they are a small maker of SMB and midmarket-focused load balancing devices. During our conversation, inevitable comparisons to F5, a well-known provider of similar devices, arose, but Peter Melerud, EVP for Product Management and Jonathan, Chief Scientist, mostly brushed them off and for good reason. Kemp is extremely comfortable with their “we’re like F5, but much less expensive and without some of the unnecessary bells and whistles” place in the market. In fact, they crave it; they have been and continue to be after what they see as a vacuum in the market and they’ve spent the years from 2003 until now working to fill it with their products.
Don’t think that Kemp’s lack of some bells and whistles is a bad thing, either. The company knows exactly what they’re good and, where they don’t match at and will tell customers if something simply won’t work.
Kemp’s founders felt that there was a market for a load balancer in smaller environments. While load balancing hardware can often cost into the tens of thousands of dollars and more, Kemp’s pricing starts at around $1,500 and tops out around $18,000. As I mentioned, Kemp’s products do not have the entire and complete F5 feature set. Instead, Kemp focuses on specific features and functions needed by customers. For example, whereas a higher end load balancer in a large enterprise might deploy a layer 7 load balancing device that can look at specific information in the payload to determine which server is best suited to handle the workload, a down-market company may not find that high level capability important or necessary. Instead, in these smaller organizations, operating at layer 4 provides a “good enough” solution to meet the need and carries with it much less cost and complexity than that larger device.
By thinking in this way, Kemp is able to develop and sell products that are relatively easy to easy to deploy, easy to use, and easy to support.
Microsoft and ease of deployment focus
Kemp doesn’t focus only on Microsoft, but the company’s presence at TechEd was not mistake. They have emphasized support for many Microsoft products in their lineup. They have made a lot of product optimization decisions around Exchange, Lync, SharePoint, Terminal Services and RDP. In some cases, even larger enterprises with F5 devices handling line of business apps are using Kemp technologies to support specific portions of the Microsoft environment.
Kemp has products that serve both traditional load balancing needs, but that can also aggregate cloud and on-premises resources. They sell products that can be deployed in virtual machines, hosted in the cloud or installed as physical hardware. With the cloud option, Kemp actually hosts the device and customers pay under a monthly service arrangement.
Continuing focus on improvement and expansion
Although the company is not very large, they continue to make major improvements to their products and they have a focus on growth. For example, at a recent product launch, Kemp released their LoadMaster 5300 product, which replaces their LoadMaster 5500. Yes, the new model is a lower number. It is also a smaller unit – 1U vs. the old model, which was a 2U box.
With the 5300, Kemp is working to deliver better and faster at a smaller price point. Whereas the 5500 carried a list price of $18,000, the new model is only $16,000. Further, the new model has 2 x 10 GbE ports standard and just about every specification is better than the outgoing model.
Another item to note with Kemp: There are no optional SKUs in Kemp’s line other than support. All features come standard. What you see is what you get. The company prides itself on being transparent.
I mentioned that they want to grow, too. To that end, in January of this year, Kemp was acquired by a group of private equity investors. Since that time—less than 6 months ago—Kemp has almost double in size. They’ve added staff to almost every area, from sales to marketing to engineering. With the associated cash infusion that came from the buyout, Kemp has been able to attract even more substantial talent than they could in the past.
The company plans to continue to focus to improve the ease of use of their product. Their road map includes a lot more support for both virtualization and cloud environments as well. As I was told today, Kemp “want to make life easier for SMBs deploying SMB apps.”
Kemp is also at work on more automation opportunities. At present, when the devices start to see more requests than available resources can handle, administrators are notified that more resources need to be provisioned.
I asked the team about the next logical step: Automating this process. To that end, Kemp told me that they are beginning discussions on integrating more deeply into the environment and automating the provisioning of new resources. For example, when demand, for example, for a SharePoint web front end starts to exceed supply, they would hook into the virtualization management layer and tell it to spin up more resources. I need to stress that these kinds of capabilities are still only under discussion and do not appear on any roadmaps, but they are items being considered. There are all kinds of possibilities!
Why do I like Kemp?
I like companies that have a focus on value. I know it’s just a buzzword, but it’s often easy to tell when companies are just paying lip service to value while, behind the scenes, it’s anything but. Kemp is generally upfront with regard to some of its pricing, but they are very up front about product capabilities. I do wish that they would provide list pricing on their site for all of their products, though. It certainly helps customers as they are working through the decision process.
They are also a company that wants to provide customers with just the features that they need without a lot of hassle. I really like that they don’t have any optional SKUs to choose from (except additional support options); as a buyer, it makes life so much simpler when a purchase order can be cut that includes just one or two line items and I run much less risk or error or omission.
Obviously, Kemp is not for everyone. F5 is huge for a reason; they make great products that serve a vast array of customer needs. Kemp plays to a subset of this space, but they do so with a focused play that concentrates on high-need features at prices that are affordable for even the SMB space and with a simplicity that means quick deployment and much easier support.