While cloud applications and WAN acceleration seem like they would go together like Chicken and Waffles. Running a WAN acceleration appliance, even a virtual one, on your favorite cloud provider's platform would mean you had to keep a VM up, running and ticking off per hour charges all the time. If your cloud application was sending data to a storage provider like Iron Mountain or Nirvanix you wouldn't even have that option.
Rather than running as a VM in a cloud server Riverbed's new Cloud Steelhead runs as part of the Amazon EC2 or Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) service provisioned for a fee of around $250/mo. Users can connect Steelhead appliances at their locations or even the Mobile Steelhead application on their laptops to a Cloud Steelhead instance that connects to their servers in the cloud. Steelhead Discovery Agents act as connection brokers so administrators don't have to keep track of where in the cloud their servers, or the Cloud Steelhead is located. The whole shebang is managed through a web portal.
As I tried to explain to those of you that read too much science fiction in a previous blog post the relationship between distance and latency is here to stay. For many organizations Riverbed's Steelhead appliances have eased the pain latency and low bandwidth caused applications that weren't designed by WAN experts, that is, nearly all of applications you use. Steelhead uses compression, data deduplication, caching, protocol spoofing (including TCP) and general magicks to boost application performance. The net result is to squeeze data to a smaller footprint and make better use of available bandwidth by allowing more data to be in flight and reducing chattyness.
While Cloud Steelhead is pretty cool, as a storage guy I spent more time at Riverbed's announcement event looking at their Whitewater storage appliance. Whitewater, which is completely unrelated to the Whitewater Development Corp. or Bill Clinton, acts as a gateway and accelerator to cloud storage providers for backup applications.
By caching, deduplicating and encrypting data independently of both the backup application and the cloud provider Whitewater acts as an enabler for disk to disk to cloud backup. While backup apps like Backup Exec and Commvault Simpana have supported both deduplication and cloud storage for a while the combination can put a serious strain on the media server.