SaaS applications can present a problem for enterprises that have gone through the effort of deploying WAN optimization and caching to remote users and offices--namely, all that caching infrastructure doesn't do a thing for SaaS apps. Riverbed aims to change that through an agreement with content delivery network specialist Akamai. An agreement to develop joint products was announced last year at Interop, and the fruits of that announcement were on display last week in Las Vegas.
The Steelhead Cloud Accelerator is a subscription service meant to boost performance for specific SaaS applications. The product initially optimizes SaaS apps Google Apps, Salesforce.com and Microsoft Office 365, which Riverbed says were the most requested. The company intends to add other SaaS applications over time and based on demand. The accelerator obviously works best when large data transfers are commonplace, so cloud-based desktop productivity applications are a good starting point.
In our demo at Interop Las Vegas, Riverbed showed a file download from Office 365 that took more than 2 minutes without the Cloud Accelerator and just 20 seconds with it. The 83% improvement is typical, according to Riverbed, which adds that customers are likely to see improvements similar to those experienced when implementing Steelhead for internal applications.
Subscriptions are charged on a per-user basis, and only one Steelhead appliance within the enterprise's network needs to run software to support each SaaS application. Costs per user depend on the length of the contract and the number of users under contract, and range from $3 to $10 per user per month.
About the only drawback to the Akamai/Riverbed system is that each SaaS application must be explicitly supported. This will be a mixed bag of support for some users, which will likely be less than satisfying. The application seems ripe for co-development effort in which the SaaS providers themselves help to create applications that easily support the Steelhead Cloud Accelerator system.
Art Wittmann is a former editor for InformationWeek. View Full Bio