Riverbed RiOS 6.0 Enhances Application Performance

Moving more data through existing networks is a key issue for many network managers trying to survive tough economic times. RiOS 6.0, a new version of the Riverbed Operating System, promises to make the task of sending ten pounds of data through a five-pound network a bit easier, especially for managers who are also coping with diverse client operating systems and the demands of system and application virtualization.

October 20, 2009

4 Min Read
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Moving more data through existing networks is a key issue for many network managers trying to survive tough economic times. RiOS 6.0, a new version of the Riverbed Operating System, promises to make the task of sending ten pounds of data through a five-pound network a bit easier, especially for managers who are also coping with diverse client operating systems and the demands of system and application virtualization. RiOS 6.0 will GA this quarter and will be available at no additional cost for existing customers with a valid maintenance contract.

For years, the standard answer to network performance issues has been to buy a bigger network. With I.T. expenditures of all types, but especially those that come from a capital expenses budget under an increasingly tight scrutiny, optimizing existing application delivery systems has become a more promising avenue for many shops. Technologies that compress data, simplify data streams, or move frequently-accessed data closer to client platforms all have roles to play in an optimized network. The fact that many companies are only now beginning to look at these options says far more about the steadily-declining price of network products than it does about the basic soundness of the concept.

According to Nik Rouda, senior product marketing manager for Steelhead appliances at Riverbed, RiOS 6.0 has been designed around two broad themes: new client support and Citrix Virtual Desktops. "RiOS needs to be able to support new clients like the Macintosh OS. Marketing, design, and media companies increasingly use the Mac as the platform of choice, and file sharing is critical to their functions," Rouda says.

Riverbed upgraded file sharing performance for Apple's implementation of CIFS on OSX, claiming a 60X improvement in performance. This is a great improvement for OSX users, but highlights an inherent fragility in WAN optimization products, namely that applications are not created equally. We'd think CIFS, a file transfer protocol used by Linux, OSX and Windows, would be uniformly supported without requiring any specific development, but clearly that is not the case. Riverbed also enhanced printing optimizations for Windows.

Explaining the second major theme, Rouda says, "A lot of IT shops are rolling out Citrix as a preferred client, and there are a couple of issues. One is whether the network can support it. What it will cost to upgrade the WAN has been a critical question for the transition to Citrix. If you can run twice as many Citrix virtual desktops on the existing networks, it's a huge advantage." He goes on to say that optimizing the connection to the thin client can play a major role in user acceptance of a new technology. "From the user point of view, if I'm used to having everything local and you're giving me a thin client, if the performance is worse it's going to cause a huge backlash. Making it fast and seamless for the users makes it much better from the user acceptance point of view. With our software they can prioritize the Citrix connection and prioritize streams within the Citrix desktop."RiOS 6.0 automatically detects and classifies different XenApp traffic, allowing the SteelHead appliance to apply the most appropriate optimizations, such as compression or deduplication, to the data. RiOS can also coalesce XenApp packets before sending them across the WAN making more efficient use of the bandwidth. In addition, RiOS can automatically decrypt, prioritize and optimize encrypted Citrix traffic. Encrypted traffic can't be optimized, so this capability should improve application response time for any Citrix XenApp traffic.

Riverbed has also enhanced Web Application support for common enterprise applications like Microsoft's CRM and Sharepoint, as well as Oracle E-Business Suite 12i. The new features can dig into the application traffic and optimize and deduplicate at the object level whether in a web page, Word document, or other file. Application-specific support can perform optimizations such as caching and pre-fetching that make the application seem faster to the end-user, while making them more efficient over the WAN. Application-specific support has to be built for each application and major revision.

It will be interesting to see how the technology moves down in the market from the very large enterprises in which it currently finds favor to medium-sized companies. It seems likely that the reliance on optimization will continue even when the economic climate improves: once a point of improving efficiency is identified, it's difficult for companies to readily give it up. When tied to the higher-bandwidth network technologies that are coming onto the market and down in price, network optimization as a technology group seems poised to be an increasing part of the network architecture discussion for quite some time to come.

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