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Riverbed Virtualizes The God Box

Riverbed jumps much deeper into application-aware
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 with networking appliances:
Virtualization decouples software from hardware, so why bother with
physical servers?

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

But right now, much of the vision is still theoretical. Though
Riverbed says the Steelhead will eventually be able to run multiple
servers of any type through VMware, each box can currently run only
one third-party server at a time. And customers have to choose from
three officially supported applications: DNS/DHCP from Infoblox, video from Wowza, or Riverbed's own print server. Riverbed is
also 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-one
boxes from competitors like Cisco and Blue Coat, which already
combine WAN optimization with their own security services. Riverbed
argues that its approach will offer much more flexibility, giving
customers 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 can
already run VMware and other applications on some of its routers. The
main difference is that routers are based on specialized hardware, so
3Com customers need to plug in a separate blade for server apps.
Steelhead appliances all use standard PC hardware and Linux so they
can support server apps directly, isolated from Riverbed's own code
using the Kernel-based
Virtual Machine
, a virtualization technology built into Linux.

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