Earlier this week, WAN optimization leader Riverbed announced an upgrade to RiOS, the operating system that powers its Steelhead appliances. This particular release, version 8.5, had some particularly unique features that I felt expanded the use of WAN Optimization appliances.
Historically, WAN optimization products have been used to improve the performance over private networks by accelerating traffic over specific links by accelerating traffic. This made it ideal for optimizing the performance of email, Windows, CAD, and other applications that caused enterprise network managers headaches. From the many interviews I’ve done with Riverbed customers, it’s clear that once network managers get a taste of an optimized WAN, they want more. In fact, one network engineer I talked to described Riverbed as “network crack,” meaning the more he got, the more he wanted.
Well, now there is more. At least more use cases for Riverbed’s Steelhead. The new feature that I found the most interesting was something called “Path Selection,” which allows IT to identify and map specific applications across different network paths. For example, it’s common to find organizations where a branch is connected over an MPLS connection, an Internet VPN and a plain-old Internet connection.
By using Path Selection, IT can optimize traffic flows across these connections. In the example above, the MPLS connection could be used for mission-critical or network-sensitive applications, such as video. Other sensitive but high-volume applications, such as email or CRM, could be sent over the Internet VPN. The Internet connection could then be used for cloud or local Internet access offloading that traffic from the private WAN. The Path Selection feature now gives Riverbed the ability to control the traffic as well as optimize the performance of it.
In this era of cloud and mobile computing, IT departments need more granular control over the WAN. Some organizations have solved this problem by managing the public and private networks independently and manually routing the traffic as needed. Riverbed now converges the management of those connections, giving IT greater control to optimize for performance and cost.
Additionally, RiOS 8.5 integrates Cascade Profiler 10.0.7 to give customers greater application awareness by integrating DPI capabilities into CascadeFlow data. This feature gives network managers much greater visibility to see into the network, identify applications, prioritize them, and then fine-tune network parameters.
Also, as part of this launch, Riverbed added specific support for NetApp’s popular SnapMirror and SharePoint 2013. Lastly, the company released a new hardware platform, the Steelhead CX255 appliance aimed at small branch offices.
While there were lots of new features and a new hardware platform as part of this release, I particularly liked the Cascade integration, as well as Path Selection. I’ve maintained for years now that it’s critical for network managers to “know the network.” Steelhead with RiOS 8.5 not only allows network managers to know the network, but also tweak how traffic flows to optimize branch performance. Mobile and cloud are evolving the WAN, and WAN optimization needs to evolve with it.