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How Riverbed is reinventing itself

In order to differentiate itself, Riverbed is re-defining itself as a platform company, instead of a suite of products.

Over the years, a number of companies have become synonymous with certain technology markets. These are companies that have been the primary evangelists for a market and are typically the technology and/or share leaders. Examples of this are F5 with Application Delivery Controllers and Aruba Networks in wireless LAN. In the WAN optimization, Riverbed is that vendor. The company has had its way with WAN optimization for over a decade now, has over 50% market share and has been a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for WAN optimization for seven years running now.

However, while being a de facto standard has many advantages, it often makes it a challenge to move into adjacent markets. Blue Coat is a great example of a company that become known as a great security specialist, but struggled to establish itself in the WAN optimization market. This has been Riverbed’s struggle over the past few years. The company has acquired companies like Mazu, Opnet and, my favorite, Zeus, to move into new markets, but has struggled to grow its share in these areas.

To combat this, Riverbed hired well-seasoned Kate Hutchison away from Polycom to be the company’s new CMO and move Riverbed away from being a collection of best-of-breed products and make the shift to a broader, platform vendor. On Monday, Riverbed reintroduced itself as a platform company with an integrated set of products that expands the reach of Riverbed past WAN optimization.

One of the steps in this transition is the renaming of the products to create greater awareness of Riverbed’s expanded value proposition. The new Riverbed product names are now:

  • Riverbed SteelHead. The name Steelhead brand holds steady, as it should, although it’s now prefaced with “Riverbed.” This is Riverbed’s anchor product today and is likely to stay that way into the foreseeable future.
  • Riverbed SteelFusion. The product formerly known as Granite might be the industry’s best-kept secret. Customers that use the branch-converged infrastructure love the product, as it can deliver on the vision of the completely server-less office.
  • Riverbed SteelApp. The acquisition of Zeus, which gave Riverbed its Stingray product, moved the company into the ADC market. SteelApp is a virtual product that’s easy to deploy and gives Riverbed a position in the evolving data center.
  • Riverbed SteelStore. Whitewater now becomes SteelStore. The product is a cloud storage appliance that easily integrates into existing backup solutions and obviates the need for tape backup.
  • Riverbed SteelCentral. This is actually more of a suite of products comprised of OPNET, Cascade and NEOP. The new SteelCentral is an excellent suite that brings together user experience, application and network performance management. The combination of products gives network managers visibility across the entire IT stack.
  • Riverbed SteelScript. Flyscript, now known as SteelScript, is a set of APIs and developer tools that enable IT departments to customize and automate Riverbed infrastructure.

While changing product names might not seem like a big deal, it can be. I’ve always felt when product brands are equivalent to or stronger than the company brand, it’s hard to make customers aware of other products. For example, with Nortel, the Meridan brand was so strong some customers thought that was the company brand and not Nortel. Because of this, many customers weren’t really aware there was a larger set of products available from the same company.

With Riverbed, I believe that most SteelHead customers are probably aware of one or maybe two of the other adjacent products, but most do not have any idea of the breadth of what Riverbed can offer as a company. This is one of the reasons why the Riverbed “Steel” naming convention is important.

Also, the updating of product brands also helps Riverbed better articulate to customers, channel partners, media and others what the products do and how they are related to an integrated solution that helps optimize application performance.

Lastly, the naming convention is important for the way Riverbed is viewed by Wall Street. Riverbed dominates the WAN optimization market and the company is unlikely to gain much more share, so if it’s viewed as only a WAN optimization vendor, its growth prospects are limited to whatever the WAN optimization market is growing at. The “new” Riverbed has a much bigger addressable market than the WAN optimization pure play and should help Riverbed executives better position the company and growth prospects with the Street.

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