F5 Networks has become the first app delivery controller vendor to announce support for Google’s SPDY web-acceleration protocol, adding support to its Big-IP hardware.

SPDY (pronounced ‘speedy’) is Google’s answer to the inefficient, insecure and unidirectional drawbacks of HTTP, which early tests by the company and its partners show can boost web performance by a claimed 10 to 50 percent depending on the type of traffic involved.

Google’s promotion of SPDY goes back at least to 2009 but has not taken off thanks to a lack of support and the problem of legacy applications, the problem F5 said it wanted to solve by adding support at the applications controller layer.

At the client side, both Chrome and Firefox already support SPDY by not by default; Firefox is planned to turn the default to ‘on’ from the forthcoming version 13 onwards.

That is only half the battle – the receiving end, the web servers or the infrastructure around them, must understand it too. That’s no problem for Google which supports SPDY inside its own data centres for specific services (Gmail for instance) and can carry any possible overhead from its enforcement of SSL encryption. Twitter is another early adopter.

Legacy software is another matter, hence F5’s approach of putting hardware in front of those servers to translate the SPDY to plain http, overcoming the non-Google world’s lack of SPDY-capable websites.

It’s not clear that this is ideal for every installation but anyone with F5 Big IP infrastructure will be getting the capability for nothing if they want it.

“It is the right type of protocol for the interactive web,” said Nathan Pearce of F5. “If you look at http it was a very consumer-oriented protocol – SPDY allows communication in both directions.”

SPDY imposed more encryption overhead but this was well within the capabilities with SSL offload.

F5’s Big-IP will also benefit from other tweaks, including optimisation of image-heavy web content and latency prioritisation for mobile traffic, he said.