Riverbed stabs at Cisco’s heart with next-gen routing

CEO Jerry Kennelly details beyond-WAN-optimization strategy that broadens Riverbed’s assault on top network rivals.

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I want to talk more specifically about how SteelConnect makes hybrid cloud easier?

You’re a CIO. You have your knowledge workers out in all your offices and they’ve got to use your captive applications that do whatever is strategic to your company but you also want to deliver Office 365, you want to deliver Salesforce, you want to deliver Workday, you may want to offload some processing to AWS instead of running it yourself. You want to do that reliably in an agile way, make quick changes and using least-cost routing. In other words, you want to put as little as possible on your MPLS network that you’re paying big bucks for to the service providers and put as much as possible out on the cheaper internet. Software-defined networking makes that world much easier. In fact, that world is very hard to address with classic routing. Software-defined routing makes that world possible really.

Talk about SteelFusion. What does this product set do and what can it replace?

SteelFusion is our edge product for people who want to have high performance of applications that run at a local branch but who don’t want the data and the storage to be in the branch for security reasons and for collaboration reasons. SteelFusion sits in a branch office, it will run all the local applications on VMs. All the data will be sitting in your central data center and using SteelHead WAN optimization technology. That data will be transmitted to the branch at virtual LAN speed so you can work out of the branch at LAN speed with data that’s sitting in the data center. That’s the best application performance at the least cost with the most security.

If the branch goes down, no data is lost because it is always resident in the corporate data center. One of the big applications for this actually has been government networks. They have been a big customer of this product. I don’t know if you remember the movie Argo, where the embassy in Iran is overrun and they’re trying to shred and burn all the papers. With SteelFusion, if the embassy is overrun you simply unplug the box. All the data is back in Washington, D.C. It was never actually in Tehran. If you’ve ever tried to restore a failed server in a branch, it’s something that can take maybe at a minimum a week, sometimes several weeks. With SteelFusion, you simply fire up a new box and all the data is retransmitted from the data center and you have a 15-minute recovery, restore from a failed branch office server. This is unheard of in the marketplace.

What happens if the branch loses connectivity?

If the branch loses connectivity the box continues to work. It still has its dataset. There is a data lock that’s established when the data goes out to the branch so the data in the data center can’t be changed and when the connectivity comes back up the two boxes resync.

SteelFusion is described as hyperconverged infrastructure on your website. Do you see that as competing with the kinds of hyperconverged infrastructure we’re hearing about from other companies like Nutanix or SimpliVity?

It’s very different and the difference is the target market and the footprint. In fact, we sell cooperatively with both Nutanix and SimpliVity. Their products are targeted at large data center deployments. It’s big iron. Our product is a smaller, low-cost version that works in a branch office. Our price point and our target market are vastly different than what they do and we actually can work cooperatively with those people.

I also want to talk about SteelCentral because that plays such a critical role in managing all this and the visibility people have into these environments. That’s been around longer, but can you talk about the more recent developments with SteelCentral and what it’s able to do for customers now?

Most of our sales leads these days come originally from SteelCentral because what SteelCentral enables someone to do is the end-to-end management from the application. The line of code in the application server out to the network, out to the other side of the network, to the knowledge worker, to his device. You can see all the way across, find, diagnose and cure every issue in the network that may be causing slow application performance.

If you’re a CIO today the slogan is: Slow is the new down. We have this term called meantime innocence. Any network manager is constantly getting calls in his organization that the network is slow and of course he’s being blamed for it. With the SteelCentral technology he can see what the cause is. Often the cause has nothing to do with the network. It could be a server in the data center that’s spooling or any number of things that are very hard to identify, diagnose and cure.

SteelCentral has one of the most powerful sets of tools end-to-end to do that. It can diagnose and cure even before a problem is noticed by the end user. There are a lot of vendors in this space. They’re typically split between what’s known as NPM, network performance management and then APM, application performance management. Riverbed, with SteelCentral probably has the most comprehensive end-to-end suite of tools that do both the APM and the NPM part of the visibility control of networks. Everyone can use SteelHead but it’s not absolutely mandatory in every network. Every network needs visibility and control tools. Every network needs SteelCentral.

I mentioned earlier our acquisition of Aternity, which has end-user experience monitoring software where you put a little agent on the laptop or mobile device and it can tell the CIO the exact response time of every user connected to his application. They can get in and fix that response time before the complaints start coming in. A very popular product.

Do you see SteelCentral as a competitor to offerings like the New Relic product line?

Yes, it is. Our history has been more in the NPM business. We entered the APM business two years ago when we bought a company called OPNET. They had just started their APM business and we finished it so we’ve actually really only been in the APM business with a full-fledged product for about a year now. We think the one we have is very powerful. We call it AIX Application Intelligence and we’re marrying to it the Aternity product that does this end-user experience monitoring. The combination of the two will put us in a very strong position vis-a-vis New Relic and the other people in that space. The difference is that our technology tends to be the heavy-weight, industrial-strength technology used by the very largest networks in the world and some of these other products are more lightweight products used more in the SMB market. If you’re a Fortune 100, a big government network, or someone with thousands of sites, servers and users you’ll want the Riverbed SteelCentral offering.

Riverbed competitors and partners

You’ve got a very different product set than when you first came out and that puts you in competition with a lot of different kinds of companies. Who do you view as your core competitors these days?

Fundamentally, we sell networking technology and they’re the giant in networking. We’ve competed with them very well over the years based on superior products, which at the end of the day is what counts in technology. The interesting competition will be in 2017 when we are fully in the market with our SteelConnect routing product which will really be the first time we go head-to-head with Cisco in one of their main networking product areas. It should be a very exciting year for both of us.

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How is the traditional WAN optimization market evolving and how are your products changing?

It turns out that that’s an eternal market because fundamentally it overcomes the problem of global latency, which is the laws of physics. The truth is, there really is no such thing as the virtual world. It’s a digital world. The digital world depends on electrons travelling the networks. Electrons are part of the physical world so everything that people think is the virtual world is really the physical world. Everything in the physical world is subject to the laws of physics and the speed of light limit. An electron is in a package traveling a network as part of the physical world and every trip in the physical world has two costs; a cost in time, which is the latency of the trip, and a cost in dollars, which is the cost you pay for the transport of the physical item.

A packet going from San Francisco to London, the cost in time is 200 ms and the cost in dollars is whatever you have to pay AT&T for your bandwidth. Those two things never change and it doesn’t matter whether you have cloud, you have hybrid or you have on-prem, that condition always exists. The core WAN optimization technology dramatically cuts both those costs. It does today and it will 100 years from now. It’s a permanent benefit to anyone doing global networking and it’s more important today than ever when people are doing heavyweight applications across global networks and when people are using more SaaS and more cloud data centers.

The net impact of cloud and SaaS is that for the average knowledge worker in a corporation, each year he’s farther away from the server that is delivering his application than he was the year before. We solved the problem of transport across physical geographic distance and the value is still there. We have almost 90% renewal rates on the SteelHeads every year because no one can imagine going back to when WWW meant world-wide wait.

I want to dig in a little bit on your work with the cloud providers. I know you have partnerships with Microsoft and Amazon. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that strategy and what you’re doing to help customers by working with the cloud providers themselves.

The cloud providers are basically channeled through us. You can go to Amazon and spin up a software version of SteelHead to run in the Amazon data center. That will connect to the SteelHead in your office and you can optimize all the work that you’re doing in Amazon. The same thing with Azure. They are basically channels to our customers. Our customers, whether they’re using SaaS or Amazon or AWS, their optimization depends on their purchase. It’s not dependent on either the SaaS provider or the cloud provider and it doesn’t require their permission or even their knowledge. Some of them are cooperative and help propagate that technology for their customer to get a better experience of their application running in those environments.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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