A conversation with Bob Gilbert, Chief Evangelist for Riverbed Technology

A conversation with Bob Gilbert, Chief Evangelist for Riverbed Technology

As some know Riverbed has not been resting on its success and has come out with its new version of RiOS which powers the award winning Riverbed Steelheads. The new version has some great features which will separate it more from the competition in the market place. Also they have updated the Steelhead Mobile to version 2.0, this also has some great updates with the new version of software.

I had the opportunity to ask Bob Gilbert some questions about Riverbed, the new version of software and where Riverbed was going. I wanted to thank Bob for taking the time to answer my questions; this was a very informative conversation.

1. Bob please tell us what your position is with Riverbed and what that entails.

My official title is Director of Marketing, Customers, Community, Evangelism.  I also go by "Chief Evangelist" as I am constantly traveling the globe introducing the world to the red hot wide-area data services market and Riverbed's groundbreaking products.  I manage our community and social media initiatives, manage our regional user group program and host a monthly podcast series.  I started at Riverbed in early 2003 as the original member of Riverbed's product management team where I helped draft the product requirements for our flagship Steelhead appliance product.

2. Now this article is all about the new version of RSP, RiOS 5.5 and the Steelhead Mobile 2.0. Can you tell us what the big changes are for RiOS 5.5 and explain to everyone what RiOS is?

Q4 has been extremely busy for Riverbed with three major product developments.  The Riverbed Optimization System or RiOS for short is the software that powers Riverbed's award-winning Steelhead appliance and Steelhead Mobile software.  For the Steelhead appliance, RiOS 5.5 is a major software update with feature highlights such as layer-7 acceleration for Lotus Notes, acceleration of encrypted Microsoft Exchange environments, acceleration of Microsoft traffic that is SMB-signed, and improved performance for data backup and replication environments.

3. How do these changes separate Riverbed from its competition?

RiOS 5.5 extends Riverbed's lead in the market with industry leading application acceleration, scalability, and simplicity.  Industry firsts include layer-7 acceleration for Lotus Notes and support for the acceleration of end-to-end SMB-signed environments.  Add gigabit throughput performance for replication environments like SnapMirror, CA XOSoft, and Tivoli Storage Manager and it is clear that RiOS 5.5 raises the bar.

4. If you were to create a excel sheet and put all of the features from all of the competitors, how many more would you have than your competitors?

One of the mistakes folks often make in this market is doing side-by-side comparisons of products based on the features that they support.  While I would stack Riverbed up against any vendor in the market when comparing important features like layer-7 acceleration capabilities, WAN optimization devices should be compared directly in live network bake-offs.  This is where Riverbed really shines and is the obvious choice.  My claim is supported by an overall win-rate of 90% based on thousands of head-to-head competitive bake-offs over the past several years. Our Steelhead appliance is one of the only WAN optimization products in the market with an architecture that was purpose-built to address the key bottlenecks that impact application performance over wide area networks.  Other vendors either acquired varying technology or are based on an architecture that was built to address a narrow scope of WAN optimization.

5. With these changes to the RiOS do you think this marks a swing or change in market share for Riverbed?

Riverbed continues to be the market leader in WAN Optimization according to Gartner's Advanced Platform (AP) WOC report, but understand that Cisco's WAAS, specifically WAE revenue is not audited, so customers should be diligent to ask for references and simply do real world test to determine the best solutions for their environment. What is clear is that RiOS 5.5 definitely extends our lead in WAN Optimization technology innovation.  We must be doing something right because, since 2004, we've won over 5,000 customers, 1,000 partners and all of the credible industry technology awards.

6. Can you tell us what the RSP or Riverbed Services Platform is used for on the Steelhead?

With the launch of our new Riverbed Services Platform or RSP for short, we have essentially embedded a VMware virtual partition on the Steelhead appliance, allowing branch office services like authentication, dns/dhcp, print, streaming media, and more to be consolidated onto a single appliance footprint.  In addition to the cost savings benefits that  come with a consolidated services platform, RSP enables an ultimate branch office box capability where you have best of breed WAN optimization plus best of breed IP address management or streaming media, security, print services or other services that are important in a branch office environment.

7. How does this differ from your competition?

Consolidating branch office services with WAN optimization is unique in this market.  Only Riverbed and Cisco offer this capability.  While Bluecoat offers a security proxy capability as part of their WAN optimization offering, only Riverbed and Cisco offer core branch office services that come with windows server environments. 

That is where the comparison between Riverbed and Cisco ends.  Riverbed's virtual branch office infrastructure based on VMware is much more robust than Cisco's KVM-based offering as Riverbed supports up to five services or software blades running concurrently on a single appliance platform.  In addition, Riverbed is partnering with a growing number of vendors ranging from Opnet to Qumu to get qualified services running on Riverbed's appliance platform and our innovative taps facility enables seamless integration of network-centric services like network monitoring and security.  This is more than just shoe-horning a VM into our box.  Our RSP platform provides true extensibility and integration not available from other vendors like Cisco.  Finally, Riverbed's RSP supports all existing xx50 Steelhead appliance models as well as most xx20 models.  Cisco customers that want virtual services have to forklift upgrade to their Wave hardware. 

8. Tell me about cost savings when using the RSP, from what I have read I can replace my servers at my remote offices using a Steelhead and RSP?

The cost savings resulting from an RSP deployment can be dramatic.  If you look at the cost of a an enterprise-class branch office server today with an average cost of $3K in addition to an annual energy cost of $480 multiplied by an average of three servers in each branch, that's over $10K for a 1 year operation cost.  Get rid of those servers and put the services on an RSP-equipped Riverbed Steelhead appliance and your costs go down to just over $2K for a savings of over $8K per branch.  Remember that this is in the context of the branch offices and Riverbed also enables you to consolidate your file and mail servers to the data center for additional cost savings.

9. How does Steelhead Mobile work in to the whole Riverbed solution?

Steelhead Mobile is a critical part of a Riverbed end-to-end WAN Optimization deployment as it takes all the groundbreaking acceleration, scalability, and simplicity capabilities that Steelhead appliance provides for the branch office and data center and extends the same capabilities to the mobile worker.  Steelhead Mobile is essentially Steelhead appliance software for your laptop so for road warriors or users that work from home they get the same level of performance as if they were in a branch office behind a Steelhead appliance. Customers have seen up to 85X faster application and data access to their laptops with Steelhead Mobile via a VPN connection.

10. Can you tell us about the new features of the 2.0 software?

Steelhead Mobile 2.0 adds key features like the ability to accelerate SSL-encrypted traffic, optimization of Oracle forms applications like that found in Oracle E-Business suite of applications, and enhancements in the management component of the mobile solution.

11. How do these separate you from your competition?

Steelhead Mobile is very unique in the industry as it was architected to leverage a Steelhead appliance deployment for optimal performance and operation.  From a performance context, this level of integration includes the ability to leverage the datastore resident on the server-side Steelhead appliance when identifying traffic that has already been seen by the devices.  Steelhead Mobile also employs the same layer-7 application acceleration techniques that have been in place in thousands of Steelhead appliance deployments for several years.  Finally, Steelhead Mobile uses the same Autodiscovery technology that the Steelhead appliance uses so installation and management of large deployments is a breeze.  Compared to vendors like Cisco that license a product from a 3rd party, Riverbed performs much better, is more scalable, and is simpler to deploy.

12. I know one major feature people have been asking me about, when will you have a MAC client out for the Steelhead Mobile?

Unfortunately, I cannot discuss product futures in this public forum, but would be happy to discuss our product plans with interested parties under NDA. Interested people can contact me at Bob.Gilbert@riverbed.com

13. I know some of the biggest features of the Riverbed product to customers are, easy of deployment, management and the ROI. Can you give our reader a few examples of ROI's that customer have seen?

The cost savings and return on investment are very strong with Riverbed's WAN Optimization products.  There are several cost savings mechanisms and I believe we touched on some of the consolidation aspects of cost savings.  With consolidation, there are two key areas where Riverbed's products can save money.  The first is by enabling companies to successfully consolidate their distributed branch office server infrastructure back to the data center that means less hardware, less energy, less management, and all the goodness that comes up a consolidated environment.  The 2nd phase of consolidation is at the branch office with servers that companies do not want to move to the data center.  With Riverbed's RSP, we enable organizations to consolidate to a single appliance footprint.  Both phases of consolidation can result in a dramatic cost savings benefit with Riverbed in place.

Another hard cost saving mechanism is in bandwidth savings.  Contrary to popular belief, bandwidth is not free and in some cases can be very expensive for skinny pipes if those pipes happen to be in far flung places.  Riverbed dramatically reduces bandwidth utilization between 60 to 95%, enables you to do more within your existing bandwidth environment so the savings from bandwidth upgrade deferral is clear.  If the timing is right, decommissioning bandwidth can be another way to save and Riverbed enables you to do that.

In addition, what sometimes is overlooked as a cost savings mechanism is the impact that Riverbed can have on productivity.  If applications can go 10x, 50x, and in some cases 100 times faster, how would that impact your business?  Riverbed has many cases where the primary reason for purchase was the impact that we had on getting projects done quicker, lessening call handling time for support personnel, or increasing billable hours for attorneys.

Last, but certainly not least, is the impact that Riverbed has on disaster recovery environments.  By speeding up data backup/replication by up to 50 times and reducing the WAN impact, companies can better meet their DR objectives.  In many cases, Riverbed has been the essential enabler to a successful DR strategy.  Try to put a cost savings figure on that!

14. While you are hear I think we can clear the air on a few things everyone says they can accelerate, can you give us a few examples things no one can accelerate but claim they can?

That's a good question and the one area I can point to is the apparent confusion around the ability to accelerate thin client, remote desktop environments like Citrix and RDP.  For these applications, some WAN optimization vendors will over promise and under deliver and in the end the customer's time is wasted.  These applications were architected to run over a WAN and in a majority of the environments, there is not too much that can be done to mitigate the impact that high latency has on performance.  The rule of thumb is that if the environment is bandwidth constrained with congestion prevalent, Riverbed (and other WAN optimization vendors) can help by eliminating congestion by eliminating all the redundancy found in the other traffic that is competing for bandwidth with Citrix or RDP.  QoS is also another way to manage bandwidth constrained environments by giving RDP or Citrix traffic priority as it competes for bandwidth.  For Citrix environments specifically, Riverbed can help improve printing, which is a known problem with Citrix. 

15. Let's look to the future of Riverbed and WAN Acceleration in the industry. Where does Riverbed go from here? What is next for Riverbed and what can we expect? Do you see more competition or companies dropping off?

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