Riverbed searches for the IT Holy Grail

Riverbed’s SteelCentral 11 brings together end user experience, infrastructure, application and network performance management in a single platform

Riverbed searches for the IT Holy Grail
Credit: © Copyright Lairich Rig, CC BY-SA 2.0

There’s a historical fable about the Holy Grail. Various cultures have different versions, but it’s described as some kind of dish or chalice with miraculous powers that gives the wielder eternal youth, riches or some other wonderful thing. Many people throughout history have spent their lives looking for the Holy Grail, but they never found it because it is, after all, a myth. 

The world of IT has it’s own Holy Grail and that’s being able to understand how the infrastructure is performing through the lens of the user. In theory, one should be able to monitor the application and use that as a proxy for user experience. In theory, this makes sense and seems easy, but practically speaking it’s extremely difficult to do because the “end user experience” can be impacted by the application, device, network, databases, service or a number of other factors. 

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Most of the infrastructure management vendors have talked about “end user monitoring” for years, but solving this problem from an end-to-end perspective has been as elusive and frankly as mythical as the Holy Grail. There are literally hundreds of vendors today trying to solve this problem, but no one has yet been successful in doing so or really even come close. 

Historically, poor application performance was certainly an annoyance, but it didn’t really hurt the business. In today’s digital world, the application is the interface between the company and its employees and customers, and poorly performing applications means lost productivity and revenues. A recent ZK Research study found that worker productivity is reduced by 14 percent specifically because of degraded application performance. Businesses spend billions on new IT initiatives to increase revenues, but if they could just make the applications they already have work better, that would result in a double digit improvement in productivity. 

One vendor that has been extremely aggressive in getting to the IT Holy Grail has been Riverbed. It has acquired several companies over the years, including Mazu, Opnet and most recently Aternity.

Riverbed’s SteelCentral 11 simplifies performance management 

This week, Riverbed announced SteelCentral 11, which brings together end user experience, infrastructure, application and network performance management in a single platform. The fragmented approach of buying these components separately requires manual correlation and analytics at a speed that even the best engineers can’t do. By rolling these up into one platform, Riverbed can simplify the entire end-to-end process. 

For example, Aternity does a great job of informing IT that a user is experiencing a problem. And if the issue is on the device, it can identify the source of the problem. But what if the problem emanates from the network or a server? Aternity wouldn’t tell you that, and the ad hoc troubleshooting process would begin. 

For those not familiar with Aternity, it’s a great tool. Without something like it, IT finds out about problems from the worker. The end user monitoring capabilities keep IT one step ahead of users instead of one step behind. Aternity can also be used to see how things change when new applications are installed or if a users device upgrades from Windows 9 to 10 or to macOS. Now that the company is part of Riverbed, once a problem has been identified, IT can drill down at the infrastructure that comprises the service or application and troubleshoot in a more structured manner, leading to shorter problem solving times and ultimately happier, more productive users. 

SteelCentral 11 features

Riverbed’s vision is for SteelCentral 11 to be the most complete, modular and integrated performance monitoring solution on the market that includes infrastructure on and off the cloud—the Holy Grail if you like. SteelCentral 11 is loaded with new features and enhancements to improve the process of managing IT infrastructure and connecting the dots up to the end user.

As part of this release Riverbed has brought together SteelCentral NetCollector, NetAuditor and NetSensor with a new platform called NetIM that gives customers a single solution for infrastructure and configuration management. NetIM can be used to capture infrastructure data, perform analytics, find performance issues, provide visibility into network paths and troubleshoot infrastructure problems that impact applications. NetIM has a bunch of new capabilities, including easy-to-set-up baselining, RESTful APIs and event and alarm management. It significantly closes the gap, if not leapfrogs, SolarWinds.

Another new feature is SteelCentral AppResponse 11, which brings together the capabilities previously found in the popular NetShark and AppResponse products. The new platform captures data and provides several out-of-the-box insights and performance metrics to immediately give network managers a view of what’s happening in their network. The product also brings in application and end user analytics, obviating the need to access a separate packet analytics platform and leading to faster troubleshooting times. 

Riverbed’s UCExpert 7.0 gives the company some upgraded capabilities in the area of unified communications management. This product has always been one of the better unified communications management tools the market, as it provides robust VoIP and video management without requiring any probes to be deployed throughout the network. Version 7.0 includes a new media path analysis that shows every step in the multimedia path with latency and packet loss information at each point. This can be used to quickly laser in on the source of unified communications problems. 

riverbed ucexpert 7.0 Riverbed

Riverbed’s UCExpert 7.0 includes a new media path analysis that shows every step in the multimedia path with latency and packet loss information at each point.

Has Riverbed achieved IT management Holy Grail status with SteelCentral 11? Certainly not. And given the dynamic and rapid evolution of IT infrastructure, perhaps the industry will never get there. 

However, the company has done an excellent job integrating many of the products brought into the SteelCentral fold through acquisition. IT organizations can now find user issues quickly with Aternity and then use the rest of the SteelCentral suite to quickly hone in on what is causing the issues. They spend less time playing resolution ping pong and more time to focusing on strategic initiatives. It’s not the Holy Grail, but it’s filled with benefits for the IT professional.

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