Riverbed Virtualizes The God Box

Riverbed jumps much deeper into application-aware networking today with the RiOS Service Platform, a way to run servers on its Steelhead branch-office boxes using virtualization. As with similar initiatives from Cisco and 3Com, Riverbed's long-term aim is to replace servers...

February 25, 2008

2 Min Read
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Riverbed jumps much deeper into application-awarenetworking today with the RiOS Service Platform, a way to runservers on its Steelhead branch-office boxes using virtualization.

 As with similar initiatives from Cisco and 3Com, Riverbed'slong-term aim is to replace servers with networking appliances:Virtualization decouples software from hardware, so why bother withphysical servers?

Riverbed is so far the only vendor to propose running virtualservers on a WAN optimization box, but the concept makes a lot ofsense. Server consolidation is most useful in branch offices, whichalso happens to be where most of its Steelhead boxes are installed.Virtualizing services on those could theoretically avoid eithersupporting servers at the remote office or consuming WAN bandwidthsending client requests to the data center.

But right now, much of the vision is still theoretical. ThoughRiverbed says the Steelhead will eventually be able to run multipleservers of any type through VMware, each box can currently run onlyone third-party server at a time. And customers have to choose fromthree officially supported applications: DNS/DHCP from Infoblox, video from Wowza, or Riverbed's own print server. Riverbed isalso working with Secure Computing on unified threat management, but doesn't know when this will be available.

For the moment, the platform seems designed to counter all-in-oneboxes from competitors like Cisco and Blue Coat, which alreadycombine WAN optimization with their own security services. Riverbedargues that its approach will offer much more flexibility, givingcustomers a choice of best-of-breed products, though this will depend on signing up more partners or giving customers the option to run other software.

The overall strategy seems very similar to 3Com's, which canalready run VMware and other applications on some of its routers. Themain difference is that routers are based on specialized hardware, so3Com customers need to plug in a separate blade for server apps.Steelhead appliances all use standard PC hardware and Linux so theycan support server apps directly, isolated from Riverbed's own codeusing the Kernel-basedVirtual Machine, a virtualization technology built into Linux.The services platform is built in to RiOS 5.0, an upgrade toRiverbed's software available free to all Steelhead users. However,customers need to pay $495 per Steelhead to enable installation ofthird-party apps, as well as licensing fees for the apps themselves.

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