Riverbed's hot, but options abound

WAN acceleration vendor Riverbed is on a tear. It just released glowing financials for 2006 (the year it went public), said it will soon offer a half million more shares of stock, and today unveiled Version 4.0 of RiOS, the operating system that drives its acceleration appliances.

Riverbed finished 2006 with sales of $90 million, an increase of 293% from the prior year. And while still running in the red, the company's $2.4 million net loss in the fourth quarter included a $4.8 million stock-based compensation expense. Without that the company would have posted a profit.

Not that it needs the proceeds at the moment. Apparently not satisfied with the $87 million raised when it went public last September, Riverbed says it will issue another 5 million shares, which it expects to generate about $80 million.

It is unclear what the company will use that money for, but it isn't sitting idle waiting for the windfall. The release of RiOS 4.0 this week adds several significant new features to its family of Steelhead appliances, chief among them the ability to accelerate SSL traffic.

Apurva Davé, director of product marketing, says encrypted SSL content accounts for 15% to 20% of WAN traffic today - traffic Riverbed couldn't act on until now - and SSL traffic is growing 50% per year.

With RiOS 4.0, instead of the SSL session extending client to server, the data center Steelhead decrypts SSL traffic from the server, compresses it and forwards it over an encrypted temporary session to a remote Steelhead, which forwards it over another temporary link to the client. "Essentially we've taken one SSL session and replaced it with three, which lets us get in the middle and participate," Davé says.

An ad agency participating in beta trials reportedly saw a 56X performance improvement when transferring large graphic files.

Riverbed isn't the first company to accelerate SSL. There are a number of other approaches, including the one Blue Coat Systems has been shipping for more than a year.

Like Riverbed, Blue Coat can deliver the greatest SSL acceleration when there are appliances at both ends of the WAN link, but it also can use caching to improve the performance of SSL links to sites that don't have an appliance.

There are several other important distinctions in how Blue Coat approaches acceleration, the primary one being its devices know the user and understand the application. That enables customers to create policies about what is forwarded over the link, rather than accelerating all traffic.

Despite Riverbed's head of steam, it's clear that no single vendor's approach is appropriate for every situation.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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