The technology industry has gone through several waves of innovation since the birth of computing. The industry kicked off with mainframes, which eventually gave way to client/server, which eventually evolved into branch office computing. Today, we are in the midst of the transition to a cloud-first world.
Each of these waves brought with it new networking tools and technologies. The devices that we used to build local LANs were not the same ones we used to build WANs.
This trend of requiring new tools is also true for the transition to the cloud. Organizations are rapidly shifting to Wi-Fi to enable mobile devices to connect to cloud services and embracing software-defined WANs (SD-WAN) to give the network the necessary levels of agility required to meet the demands of a cloud-first world. Unfortunately, most of these technologies have been built independent of one another, making management of the end-to-end network in a cloud-centric business very difficult.
Today, Riverbed launched a solution called SteelConnect. It unifies network connectivity and orchestration of application delivery across the end-to-end network, which includes remote LANs, hybrid WANs and cloud networks. Riverbed designed SteelConnect to meet the unique needs of the cloud. This includes the following capabilities:
- Unified connectivity and management. Most SD-WAN solutions unify management of the WAN, but Riverbed is expanding the management domain into the remote LAN and cloud, as well as the WAN.
- Business-driven orchestration. Legacy networks are managed one appliance at a time, often through a command line interface (CLI). This causes lengthy upgrade cycles and is highly error prone. SteelConnect has been built on the concept of policy-based orchestration. Applications, users, locations or performance requirements can define the policies so they can be aligned with business priorities. For example, a policy could be created to send all video and voice traffic down the circuit with the most available bandwidth and all email traffic over broadband connections.
- Intuitive management tool. Riverbed designed SteelConnect with a web-based, easy-to-understand GUI. The tool enables administrators to design the network before deploying any hardware. The configurations can then be pushed down to the devices via zero-touch provisioning for deployment of infrastructure without the need for an engineer to be on site. Typically, setting up policies and configuration updates can take hundreds of lines of CLI code, but with the SteelConnect portal, they can be set up with a few mouse clicks.
- End-to-end visibility. Riverbed built SteelCentral Network Performance Management (NPM) and Application Performance Management (APM) capabilities into SteelConnect. Through SteelConnect, administrators will be able to see how network traffic flows, see congested areas, as well as have visibility into the users and devices connected to the network.
The above SteelConnect capabilities are supported by the following new products from Riverbed, most of which came from the acquisition of Ocedo:
- SteelConnect Manager is the management portal referenced above.
- SteelConnect Gateways are WAN gateways that can be deployed as physical or virtual appliances. The gateways connect the branch locations to MPLS or broadband WAN links and enable point-to-point or meshed connectivity. The gateways support zero-touch provisioning, automated VPN configuration and security capabilities.
- SteelConnect Switches and SteelConnect Access Points are Riverbed’s access products designed for branch offices and other remote locations. The devices support zero-touch provisioning and automate policy enforcement. Riverbed integrated the SteelCentral instrumentation into the switches and APs for visibility into the local network.
SteelHead integration on the roadmap
While SD-WAN is a relatively new market, Riverbed is an established solution provider in the area of WAN optimization. The company’s SteelHead product is the de facto standard when it comes to WAN optimization, with thousands of customers having deployed the product. For Riverbed customers, the SteelConnect announcement begs the question of when and how SteelHead and SteelConnect come together.
As part of this announcement, Riverbed has laid out a roadmap of how the two solutions come together. At the time of SteelConnect’s launch, there is some integration between the two products and WAN path selection and network QoS, technologies found in SteelHead, built into SteelConnect. By midyear, there will be tighter integration between the two that includes service chaining and single-click cloud deployment. By the end of 2016, Riverbed will introduce a converged box with SteelHead CX70 and SteelConnect capabilities. The converged platform will also let customers run third-party services on the Riverbed platform.
The cloud is redefining networks, and the WAN is where some of the major changes are happening. However, it’s not the only place. Riverbed’s SteelConnect product gives organizations the ability to manage the network as a single entity—from the LAN to the cloud.