Riverbed makes room for third-party branch services

* Upgraded Steelhead OS lets users run third-party applications and services

Riverbed Technology this week launched a new version of the operating system that powers its lineup of Steelhead WAN optimization appliances.

Central to Riverbed Optimization System (RiOS) Version 5.0 is technology that lets customers run local branch services -- such as print and proxy file services -- on their Steelhead appliances so they can cut back on the number of dedicated servers deployed in remote offices.

With the new RiOS Services Platform, customers can deploy services from third-party vendors in a self-contained partition on Steelhead appliances.

“It’s carving out a protected partition on the Steelhead appliance so that customers can run additional services and applications without another dedicated server in the office,” says Harold Byun, senior product marketing manager at Riverbed. “Customers gain from additional consolidation, and they can reduce their hardware costs as well as their administrative overhead.”

Initially, Riverbed’s data services platform can run local print server and streaming media services. Riverbed plans to support additional applications and services in the future. One example is IP address management, which Riverbed plans to offer soon via a partnership with Infoblox, Byun says. Further out on the horizon are potential add-ons such as an application performance monitoring sensor, or a unified threat management module, he says.

There’s a $495 fee to activate the RiOS Services Platform on each Steelhead device. Today customers can use just one module, but future versions of the platform will let customers run multiple modules at once.

Also new in RiOS 5.0 are optimization techniques tailored for Microsoft Exchange 2007 (Riverbed already accelerates Exchange 2000 and 2003). Riverbed is providing protocol optimization for the Exchange 2007 protocol, MAPI 2K7, at the application layer.

For Oracle shops, RiOS 5.0 improves Riverbed’s acceleration capabilities for Oracle 11i applications running in HTTP mode. The improvements target the Oracle E-Business suite of applications, particularly Oracle forms traffic and reporting, Riverbed says.

The vendor also has worked to improve its existing HTTP and HTTPS acceleration capabilities to speed enterprise Web applications such as SAP NetWeaver, PeopleSoft/JD Edwards, Siebel CRM, Microsoft SharePoint, and Outlook Web Access. Users of RiOS 5.0 will see additional performance improvements of up to 10x for their Web applications, Riverbed claims.

Engineering firm Golder Associates, which runs a centralized SharePoint server for its 140 worldwide offices, says Riverbed’s upgraded operating system has shaved significant seconds off document access times.

"We were already running SharePoint with Steelhead appliances and saw a 2.5x increase in performance for our staff collaborating on projects. With RiOS 5.0, SharePoint runs even faster,” said Joe Potegal, senior network engineer at Golder Associates, in a statement. “Documents that used to take 30 seconds to access without Riverbed now take 2 to 3 seconds, and our staff can collaborate from wherever they're working.”

Riverbed is offering customers more deployment options with RiOS 5.0 as well. For example, customers can choose from three WAN visibility modes that govern how transparent traffic data is. Riverbed’s default mode is correct IP addressing. Optionally, customers can choose a mode that offers correct addressing along with port visibility; this mode provides port visibility for traffic analysis without requiring any router changes.

The third option is full IP and port visibility -- which provides greater transparency but requires router and architectural changes, Byun warns. Customers can select more than one mode, choosing partial visibility for portions of a network and the default mode for others, for example.

For some customers, full IP and port transparency is important for traffic-reporting purposes, for example.

“We've been Riverbed customers for over three years, and were using Steelhead appliance service port mapping to work with our service provider's QoS guarantees,” said Jean-Christophe Mazoyer, European infrastructure manager at Avid Technology, in a statement. “That was working well enough for us, but with the new Riverbed transparency feature we can integrate much easier with the WAN-side management capabilities from our provider.”

On the management front, RiOS 5.0 improvements include a retooled GUI and more granular role-based administration.

Lastly, Riverbed added to its QoS options in RiOS 5.0. With “hierarchical QoS,” customers can assign QoS specifications on a per-site basis, in addition to setting application or protocol priorities.

“This method is more granular for customers with more complex networks, that have branches with different size WAN links going into them, so they can apply QoS rules on a per-site basis, rather than a flat QoS model,” Byun says.

RiOS 5.0 will be generally available in March.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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