In 2010, pop singer Katy Perry released a song called Firework. Some of its lyrics are:\u00a0\u201cCause baby you're a firework, come on show 'em what you're worth, make 'em go oh, oh, oh.\u201d\u00a0 In addition to being one of my favorite Katy Perry songs, it\u2019s always reminded me of the firework that was Riverbed and its charismatic and often outspoken CEO, Jerry Kennelly.\nRiverbed was the face of WAN optimization\nRiverbed was indeed a firework, as it hit the market with a bang and became the face of WAN optimization. (Note: Riverbed is a client of ZK Research.) Riverbed wasn\u2019t the first vendor in this market \u2014\u00a0that was Packeteer \u2014\u00a0but Riverbed evangelized it and became synonymous with the technology.\nPart of the company's success was a great, and I mean great, product: its SteelHead product. It was fast to deploy and easy to manage, and customers couldn\u2019t get enough of it. In fact, one network manager once described SteelHead to me as \u201cnetwork crack\u201d because once you put it in the network, you need to have more and can never take it out.\n\nThe two men responsible for Riverbed were co-founders Steve McCanne, who was the engineer and CTO, and Kennelly, CEO and front man for the company. Riverbed was perhaps the hottest startup of the early 2000s. It went public in September of 2006, and its initial public offering (IPO) was nothing short of a smashing success. Even CNBC\u2019s Jim Cramer got into some Riverbed action when he did a bit of research and pontificated on how the company was beating larger vendors like Cisco, Juniper, and Citrix consistently \u2014 and he was right.\nKennelly compares SteelHead to fire\nI recall an investor meeting in which Kennelly was asked why he doesn\u2019t sell Riverbed to a larger network vendor, such as Cisco or HP, and his answer will go down as perhaps my favorite CEO quote of all time. He said if you invented fire, why would you sell it? Fire changed the world, and that\u2019s something you couldn\u2019t put a price on \u2014 and Kennelly was comparing his company to that.\nTo understand why Kennelly said that requires knowing Kennelly\u2019s personality. He was bold and brash, and he was never afraid to call out a competitor for having an inferior product. The WAN market is massive, and Riverbed had the best product \u2014 and he wanted everyone to know.\nKennelly picked on every competitive vendor, but his favorite target was Cisco, which he claimed had a product that was broken \u2014 and he was right. Cisco\u2019s entry into WAN optimization was through the acquisition of Actona, which had built a product to optimize the movement of files across a network. Riverbed\u2019s solution was a lot more complete and worked with a wide variety of applications. Its closest competitor was Peribit, but Juniper stepped in and did Riverbed a solid by acquiring Peribit and then mismanaging that asset into irrelevance.\nCisco\u2019s lack of a product and weak competitive landscape were the fuel and Kennelly\u2019s outward-facing bravado was the spark the company needed to become a firework and make the industry go \u201coh, oh, oh\u201d as the company\u2019s value skyrocketed, reaching a peak market cap of just under $6 billion in 2011.\nRiverbed wasn't afraid to acquire to move into adjacent markets\nBeing brash wasn\u2019t the only thing Kennelly was good at. Along the way, he made a number of acquisitions to set the company up to expand its market opportunity. These included the following:\n\nMazu Networks in February 2009\nCACE in October 2010\nGlobal Products in November 2010\nZeus Technology in July 2011\nExpand Networks in January 2012\nOPNET in December 2012\nOcedo in January 2016\nAternity in July 2016\nXirrus in April 2017\n\nThose were all solid technologies, particularly Mazu, CACE, OPNET, and Aternity, which were the building blocks of Riverbed\u2019s current SteelCentral network (NPM) and application performance management (APM) suite. There are many NPM and APM products available, but Riverbed has one of the broadest and most complete solutions.\nRiverbed goes private in 2014 to retool\nDespite its hot start and meteoric rise, Riverbed's growth could not be sustained and the market for WAN optimization slowed down in 2012. And in late 2014, Riverbed announced it would be taken private by Thoma Bravo for a value of $3.6 billion. Riverbed\u2019s success in WAN optimization became its curse, it had become so well branded in that particular market that it struggled to move into adjacent markets in any meaningful way.\u00a0\nAlso, despite its massive install base of WAN optimization appliances, the company was slow to catch the SD-WAN wave. Going private gave Riverbed the cover to re-tool without having to worry about the pressures of being publicly traded. In 2016, Riverbed acquired Ocedo, which gave It a rock-solid SD-WAN solution that became the foundation for its SteelConnect solution that it launched in 2016. \u00a0\nRiverbed looks to Paul Mountford to lead the company into its next phase \nNow Riverbed sits on the precipice of its second act, and Kennelly is stepping aside and turning the helm over to Senior Vice President and Chief Sales Officer Paul Mountford, who joined Riverbed about four years ago. I\u2019ve known Mountford for years and interacted with him regularly when he was at Cisco. He\u2019s a strong leader and clearly understands how to capitalize on market transitions based on the success he had at Cisco.\nRiverbed was late to SD-WAN, but it\u2019s biggest asset is its massive install base of SteelHead appliances combined with its high customer satisfaction scores. I\u2019d like to bid a fond farewell to Kennelly and say thanks for the memories. The ride would not have been the same without you, but I look forward to seeing what Mountford can do with the new Riverbed.