Riverbed Fords WAN/WAFS Divide

Lumps WAN optimization and WAFS to solve remote office woes

July 19, 2005

3 Min Read
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Riverbed Technology Inc. has upgraded its technology to speed data delivery to remote sites. In the process, it's aiming to span the markets for both WAN optimization and wide area file services (WAFS) products.

Riverbed today unveiled the second generation of its Steelhead appliance. The new version will ship later this month and will also be sold by Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) as part of an OEM deal (see HP Upgrade Features OEM Crowd). The appliance will have three major enhancements:

  • Remote access if a WAN link is down. Users will be able to access files even if they lose the WAN link. This is done through a proxy file service (PFS), which allows remote offices to carve out a portion of the Steelhead disk for local files. Users have access to those files if they lose the WAN.

  • Microsoft SQL acceleration. Riverbed has applied compression and data reduction algorithms to data based on Microsoft SQL. This module is one more of the specialized accelerators Riverbed's created to streamline specific kinds of remote traffic. It already provides a module for email.

  • TCP acceleration for applications such as FTP on high-bandwidth networks (OC-12 or Gigabit Ethernet) that also feature high-latency connections. This capability is available on the high end of Steelhead -- the 5010 -- and Riverbed claims it can increase throughput by approximately 25 times.

The first two enhancements are the kinds of solutions users have sought out WAFS vendors to solve. WAFS take a file-oriented approach to saving server and storage space, while WAN optimization uses network-based compression, caching, and packet sizing to transfer data faster to remote sites. But Riverbed follows a larger trend toward combining WAFS with WAN optimization in a sweeping approach (see Remote Site Rapprochement).

Riverbed expects its broad approach to plug holes that exist in more focused strategies. It also makes its job more challenging, from both a technology and marketing standpoint. By trying to do everything, will Riverbed be able to handle WAFS better than WAFS-specific vendors and WAN optimization better than the WAN optimization guys? Will users believe it?

Analyst Arun Taneja of the Taneja Groupsays Riverbeds wider focus can help it in the long run, but can also be tougher to pull off.“These guys are trying to solve a much larger problem, they’re taking a much wider swath,” he says. “They don’t care, whatever’s riding on top of TCP/IP, they will try to accelerate it. They try to consolidate all remote services. Obviously, it’s a large challenge. And because of its approach, Riverbed has a large number of competitors on all sides.”

Although the WAN optimization/WAFS market is still young and has already had a bit of consolidation, there remains a healthy list of competitors (see Cisco Chomps FineGround, Cisco Wades Into WAFS, and Peribit Deal: More to Come). Many of these also are broadening their scope as WAFS and WAN optimization become more complementary than competitive.

There are several recent examples: acquired WAFS and WAN acceleration technologies from purchases of Actona and FineGround. DiskSites Inc. expects to have a product with WAFS and application acceleration later this year (see DiskSites Unveils Architecture). Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) will have file, email, and Web services acceleration in the next version of the Sequence Mirror product it acquired from Peribit (see Peribit Intros App Acceleration ). Tacit Networks Inc., which began with support for CIFS, NFS, and Exchange applications, is working on protocol optimizations for all TCP-based applications and future versions will allow remote users to access and create files during a WAN disruption.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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