A little over a decade ago WAN optimization became a real market, and it was flooded with names like Peribit, Actona, Packeteer, and SWAN Labs. However, no one did WAN optimization better than Riverbed. In fact, Riverbed and the term WAN optimization became synonymous with one another as the market took off. WAN optimization was hot because it solved a huge problem – it made applications such as Windows file transfer and Exchange work better over wide area connections, alleviating a sore point for network managers for years. Once deployed, it was impossible to take out. I remember interviewing a network manager of a global firm who referred to Riverbed as "network crack." Once workers got used to an optimized WAN connection, it was impossible to go back to a non-optimized connection.
Over the past few years, though, the WAN optimization market has cooled off and Riverbed's growth has slowed. The challenge for Riverbed and the rest of the market is that WANs have evolved into hybrid WANs, and optimizing the private network only solves part of the problem.
This week at Riverbed's user conference, FORCE, the company outlined its vision for the hybrid enterprise as well as the performance problems businesses will face when shifting to this new architecture. A hybrid enterprise uses a hybrid WAN to support both cloud and traditional premise-based applications. This would actually be the majority of organizations today, as very few companies will be "all cloud" or "all private infrastructure."
The shift to the cloud and a hybrid WAN creates a number of new challenges for IT managers, including a lack of visibility for traffic off the private network, a lack of control, an inability to optimize traffic, and application sprawl created from shadow IT. Also, SaaS providers do not offer any kind of service-level agreement, since there's no way for the cloud provider to control the network on which the application is delivered. No visibility, no control, and no ability to optimize – pretty serious problems for the hybrid enterprise.
The new Riverbed SteelHead 9.0 optimizes, automates, and secures the delivery of applications over hybrid networks. In conjunction with this, SteelCentral AppResponse version 9.5 monitors and provides visibility into SaaS-based applications. This enables IT to monitor the end user experience for cloud-based applications.
SteelHead 9.0 optimizes application performance in multiple ways. The product groups applications according to type and business priority to automate SLA enforcement for various applications. SteelHead 9.0 uses a combination of optimization techniques, including QoS and Path Selection, to calculate the best "path" on which to send an application. As an example, real-time traffic like voice and video can be directed over the higher-priced MPLS connection. Other, not so important traffic, such as recreational usage, could be shifted to lower-cost Internet connections. Now customers can optimize the network for performance or cost or some sort of combination of both.
Additionally, SteelHead 9.0 can identify more than 1,000 applications, including those that are on-premise or SaaS-based, and can automatically optimize the performance. This would include many of the everyday SaaS-based applications such as Salesforce, Office 365, WebEx, and Oracle. The company will continue to add new applications to its catalog, but will focus on SaaS applications.
Riverbed now has a strong cloud optimization portfolio that includes SteelHead SaaS for cloud-based applications over the public Internet and SteelHead CX for virtual deployments in a service provider network or private cloud environment.
The enhanced visibility is accomplished through the integration of SteelHead 9.0 and SteelCentral AppResponse 9.5. The combined solution provides deep visibility to differentiate between server and network issues, identify where the fault is, and, through analytics, even predict when problems will occur.
Hybrid WANs are hot right now, but they do bring some new challenges. The new products announced at the company’s FORCE conference should allow Riverbed customers to aggressively move to a hybrid model without the risk of performance issues or problems caused by a lack of visibility.