Get to know Riverbed

* Close-up on Riverbed Technology

WAN optimization vendor Riverbed Technology attacks caching, compression and application acceleration with its Steelhead network appliances and says it can put the functionality of four or five products in one box.

The San Francisco start-up, founded in 2002, launched its first product in April and has since signed more than 50 customers - and it is currently testing its product in 80 more IT shops.

According to a report from JMP Securities, Riverbed competes with companies such as Expand Networks, Orbital Data, Packeteer and Peribit in the WAN optimization market. JMP analyst Sam Wilson estimates in the August report that the market for such optimization technologies will grow from $200 million in 2004 to between $2 billion and $4 billion by 2007.

"Riverbed has support for ultra compression, TCP optimization and file server application protocol acceleration," Wilson states in the report. JMP Securities goes on to say that through partnerships, such as Riverbed’s deal with storage giant EMC, and further product developments, Riverbed will expand its capabilities beyond its current offering as a consolidated data center optimization box.

"Our appliances not only address bandwidth constraints over the WAN, but [also] TCP chattiness as well as application chattiness. We do address multiple WAN acceleration capabilities with one product without requiring customers to install multiple boxes in their data center," says Eric Wolford, vice president of business development and marketing at Riverbed.

Riverbed packages its technology on Linux-based off-the-shelf PC servers, which must be installed on either side of a WAN connection. Riverbed engineers tackled WAN optimization from three angles:

* Scalable Data Referencing (SDR), which the company says solves customer bandwidth problems. This technology allows Steelhead appliances to decompose the structure of data, find similarities among the bytes, and instead of sending the content over the WAN in its byte form, it sends a data reference. The data reference eliminates the need to send the same data over the WAN and reduces the amount of bytes being sent; only the data that is different is sent. "About 70% to 90% of WAN traffic is repetitive and can be redundant," Wolford says. "This feature removes bytes from the WAN."

* Virtual Window Expansion (VWE), which is a technique that enables Steelhead appliances to stuff more data into a TCP window without modifying TCP. VWE uses the references generated by Riverbed’s SDR technology. One TCP window can be packed with many references, which represent a large amount of data, enabling the technology to put a huge amount of data into one TCP window. "Latency happens on the WAN because of multiple round trips. This reduces the need for round trips," he says.

* Transaction Prediction, which uses algorithms designed to address the problems caused by chatty application protocols operating in high-latency or WAN environments. This feature enables a Steelhead appliance to work in advance of an end-user request for data. Wolford explains that Steelhead appliances transparently intercept all TCP traffic, so they can also make predictions about upcoming transactions based on knowledge of the protocol and past behavior. "The server sees an Exchange cache flow statement and knows that 1,000 round trips are about to take place, so it predicts the client will request, say, the next 900 interactions and packages those at the edge of the LAN to eliminate the back-and-forth over the WAN," he says.

In October, Riverbed introduced Version 1.1 of its product, adding a central management console. The console would enable IT managers to send data across a WAN to remote Steelhead appliances before the data is requested to reduce latency and speed up file transfers over distributed networks, Riverbed says.

Steelhead appliances come in five models, ranging from $6,000 to $40,000.

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