Catching up with Riverbed Technology

* A new mobile client is the latest product in Riverbed’s WAN acceleration portfolio

The WAN optimization market is enjoying some good times.

Vendors continue to pepper the market with new products, and enterprises continue to buy. Infonetics Research predicts strong double-digit annual growth in the worldwide WAN optimization market through 2010, when sales will reach $652 million.

One company riding the wave is Riverbed Technology (which this summer came out on top in Network World’s test of WAN acceleration gear).

Riverbed made its debut as a public company nearly one year ago, with an offering price of $9.75 per share. Last week, the San Francisco company’s stock closed just above $40. In its most recent quarterly statement, Riverbed posted 200% growth in revenue compared to the year-earlier quarter.

Looking ahead, Riverbed will have a new revenue stream to pursue with its mobile client, which it began shipping just a few weeks ago. The Steelhead Mobile software performs data de-duplication, transport protocol optimization and other acceleration functions to speed up WAN traffic between data centers and individual notebooks and desktops.

Last week I caught up with Eric Wolford, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Riverbed. Here’s what he had to say on a number of corporate and technical issues.

* Purchase priorities: Wolford cites four primary reasons IT buyers shop for WAN optimization gear: to speed up applications over the WAN so employees can be more productive; as part of an initiative to remove servers and storage devices from remote locations and consolidate them in a data center; to speed data back-up and replication applications; and to make better use of bandwidth and avoid upgrades. “People tend to start slowly and then build in their momentum,” he says. “They’ll start with two to 10 boxes, and then do bigger orders in the second and third phase.”

* Repeat buyers: “The thing that gives energy to any company is the traction you get with buyers and customers, and how many customers are buying more,” Wolford says. Between 45% and 60% of Riverbed’s quarterly revenue is from repeat customers, he says.

* The challenge of building a mobile client: Morphing Riverbed’s existing technology into a smaller footprint, appropriate for a personal computer, was challenging, Wolford says. “On a laptop, you don’t control all the resources. So behaving as a good citizen, and not causing collateral damage, was something that required a fair amount of work and energy.” Testing to make sure the Steelhead Mobile software could interoperate with the other software that commonly sits on laptops -- including different operating systems, wireless technologies and VPNs -- was a big part of the engineering effort. “All of those variants meant there had to be a lot invested in testing combinations, permutations. There’s a lot of complexity that had to be worked through,” Wolford says.

* Mobile demand: Early indicators suggest customers are interested in Riverbed’s acceleration technology for desktops and laptops. “Our beta program was 3x oversubscribed,” Wolford says of the Steelhead Mobile launch.

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