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Riverbed Adds VMware To Cloud Application Optimization

Steelhead WAN optimization product line is extending its hooks further into cloud computing and desktop virtualization with addition of ESX and Microsoft RemoteFX support.

Recommended Reading:
-- Riverbed, Akamai Partner On WAN Optimization For Clouds
-- Riverbed Branches Into Cloud Apps, Storage Optimization

Riverbed is extending the cloud computing services and thin client software supported by its Steelhead wireless area network optimization product line. The cloud version of Steelhead now includes support for providers that use VMware's ESX-based environment in addition to Amazon's Citrix-based services, while the standard version now supports thin clients (or desktop virtualization) with the Windows Aero user interface.

Cloud computing is even more dependent on WAN links than internal enterprise applications, so it's an obvious candidate for WAN optimization. Riverbed first released a cloud version of Steelhead in October 2010, based on Amazon's public Elastic Compute Cloud and EC2's private cloud service, Virtual Private Cloud (VPX). It has since added cloud support throughout its Steelhead product line, last week adding ESX, offering customers a wider choice of service providers. The cloud Steelhead works in the same way as the standard version, except that it applies compression, data reduction, and quality of service to links between Steelhead and a cloud service, rather than between two Steelhead appliances.

Just like WAN links between enterprise data centers, links to cloud services usually will see a greater performance boost from symmetric WAN optimization boxes, like Riverbed's Steelhead, than asymmetric systems like IBM's DataPower appliance, which also is aiming for cloud computing enterprise customers. And just like in an enterprise, the downside is that the Riverbed technology needs to be installed at both ends of the link--including, in this case, by the cloud service provider.

Riverbed currently supports ESX-based clouds from Terremark, ZettaServe, and Xtium, as well as Amazon EC2 and VPC. Like cloud computing itself, the cloud side of the Riverbed technology is sold as a service. Of course, customers also need a Steelhead appliance (which can be physical or virtual) at every site where they want to use the technology.

Mobile cloud computing users can use Cloud Steelhead through the same Steelhead Mobile Software that Riverbed offers its other Steelhead customers. However, a mobile version of the client isn't available for other platforms such as the iPad or smartphones. "We're not sure how many enterprises would be willing to pay for that," said Nick Rouda, director of solutions marketing at Riverbed, in an interview. "You have to look at how much traffic from these devices is going back to the corporate network."

Riverbed also is relying on partnerships with service providers for the other prong of its cloud strategy, Whitewater storage appliances that compress and encrypt data before storing it in a cloud. Because storage services don't restore data and process it in the same way as cloud application providers, there's no need for Riverbed technology on the provider side of the network, as there is with Steelhead. However, Riverbed still needs to customize its box for each provider as there's no widely supported standard for accessing storage clouds. "We need to do specific work with each one," said Rouda. "They're all based on REST, but REST isn't an API; it's just a set of guidelines." Whitewater currently supports storage services from Amazon, AT&T, and Nirvanix.

The business case for running thin clients over the WAN isn't as obvious as for optimizing cloud links, and Riverbed admits that performance doesn't necessarily match local desktops. However, it says that many customers are attracted by the cost savings enabled by desktop virtualization's centralization and consolidation. In addition to existing Citrix and Microsoft protocols, the latest version of Steelhead adds support for Microsoft RemoteFX, a new remote desktop technology used in Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, to support Windows 7 clients.

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