When I upgrade to a newer version of a product like a BIG-IP, my first instict is to log into the GUI and see what new features in the product have been added and how I can tinker with them. One piece of the puzzle that typically doesn't get the coverage it deserves is changes in the underlying management framework. For BIG-IP v9.0, a complete redesign of the admin GUI framework was made to aid in usabiliy and development of new features. In v10.0, again a lot has changed but it may not be so apparaent. This article will discuss some of the cool new features in the admin GUI framework and how they can help you be more productive.

The Logon/Logoff Process

Previous to v10.0, authentication was performed by the web server. This means that when you login a separate dialog will be popped up by the browser prompting you for your credentials.

With v10, we've moved to a forms based login process which has several benefits. First, credentials are now part of the application. This allows for more fine grained control on idle timeouts. After a couple of minutes of idle time, the following modal dialog will appear over your session protecting you from folks walking by your terminal while you are off to get a cup of coffee.

Another big feature is the ability to logout. When testing mutliple user accounts, previously you had to close your browser and open a new one and re-login as the new user. You can now simple click the "Logout" link at the top right of the GUI.

Performance Improvements

With the new updated UI framework, optimizations have been made in the way that resources such as style sheets and script files are generated. Previously all resource requests went through our JSP framework and were not cacheable. This has been corrected to allow direct access to the resources so that browsers will honor the cache expire directives eliminating unnecessary requests needed to render the page. This is all completely transparent to the end user, but if you were wondering why the pages are much snappier to load, now you know one of the reasons.

In addition to the cache optimizations made, the process of rendering the page has changed as well. The page has been modified to have a static top and left menu that are rarely reloaded and a content iFrame that is reloaded on each page request. This means that for each new page requested, the static content remains in the client browser. This is accomplished with some AJAX based code that handles the page requests. The top and left menus are reloaded either manually through the a secret backend refresh command from the content in an iFrame or via a scheduled poll. There's speed optimization #2.

Status and Menu Pane

I mentioned the status pane in the previous section when I discussed the page load optimizations. The status bar consists of two sections. The top section contains system information such as the hostname, management ip, date, time, user, role, and current partition. The second status section contains state information such as information about the standby state of a HA pair of systems as well as recommended actions like performing a synchronization.

But that's not it, they are now multi-level so you won't have to click through multiple pages to get to a desired task. This is key in reducing the number of reloads of the menu pane.

You may also notice the (+) symbols on the menus. For objects that have a create option, this symbol will direct you to the object creation page. This means one more click saved when you need to create new objects.

And while we are talking about the menus, on each page in the content pane, you will notice a drop-down with a gear symbol on it. This gives you access to the compact and menu shortcut links.

The options on the compact menu are the following:

  • Show Compact Menus - this gives you options to the size of the left hand navigation menu.
  • Auto-close menus - Toggling this field will control auto-collapsing of the non-current navigation menu.
  • Bookmark this page - Create a browser bookmark to the current page.
  • Direct link to page - Display a permalink to the current page.
  • Print content area - Print just the content area without the surrounding status panes and menus.

Help

The content-sensitive help in the BIG-IP GUI has always been useful, but the new "Launch" option on the "Help" tab will now launch the help content into a new browser window. The real benefit here is that as you click on new pages, the content in the help window is auto-updated to the page you are currently visiting. Previously you had to re-click on "Help" for each new page and you were not able to view help and the navigation at the same time. You can now have both open at the same time and the content on the help pane will automatically follow you as you navigate through the configuration!

Conclusion

Just as the product team has been working hard at adding new features to BIG-IP, the UI team has been working equally hard on making the BIG-IP GUI the most user friendly administration framework in the industry. Oh, and they aren't finished! There are many other improvements in the works that we can't talk about yet! Keep your eyes peeled!