The Riverbed Blog (testing)

A blog in search of a tagline

It’s the architecture stupid!

Posted by bobegilbert on September 19, 2008

What makes Riverbed’s products so special and unique?  If I had a dollar for every time I hear this question, the college tuition for my 3 daughters would be paid in full.  The market for optimizing and accelerating applications over WANs is crowded with vendors trying to grab a piece of the very big WAN optimization/wide-area data services market pie.

While these vendors are working to differentiate themselves, Riverbed continues to lead the pack with customer adoption at 4500+, a sweeping win of industry awards, and a continuous product cycle that has resulted in innovative features and new products.  Instead of using this blog post to talk about Riverbed’s unique product features, I will save that for our crack marketing team and use this post to talk about another angle of Riverbed’s product differentiation – the fact that Riverbed has the only purpose built architecture

To set context, I would like to provide a WAN optimization history lesson.  Before Riverbed erupted on the scene in May 2004 with its groundbreaking Steelhead appliance and RiOS 1.0 software, a handful of vendors with WAN-centric technology approaches already existed in the market.

Let’s look at the various vendors and how their technologies and solutions have evolved.

Packeteer / Mentat / Tacit / Bluecoat
Packeteer was founded in 1996 and shipped an appliance solution in 1998 for shaping and prioritizing WAN traffic, which helped with WAN environments that were bandwidth constrained.  Packeteer later acquired TCP acceleration company Mentat followed by WAFS file caching vendor Tacit.  Packeteer was recently acquired by Bluecoat, which began as a web caching company before reinventing themselves as a security company and then finally bolting on byte caching and CIFS acceleration so they could play in the WAN optimization market. 

Expand Networks / DiskSites
Expand Networks was founded in 1998 and developed a packet compression product to address the problems with bandwidth limitations.  Expand’s product was focused on the fundamental problem of unclogging WAN pipes and not on TCP or application layer protocol optimization.  Their product had little impact on application performance and their initial success was selling into the military with a low cost memory-only based packet compression appliance.  It was not until later that Expand bolted on TCP acceleration then later adding memory-only byte caching then finally adding CIFS file caching via their acquisition of file caching vendor DiskSites.

Peribit Networks / Juniper
Peribit was founded in May 2000 and in a similar fashion to Expand, was focused on solving the bandwidth challenges with a novel packet-based compression scheme based on a snazzy WAN-based deduplication technology that was modeled from DNA sequencing.  Peribit was the darling in the "bandwidth optimization" market at the time and had good revenue traction.  Peribit expanded beyond memory-only packet compression by bolting on a disk to their platform and adding CIFS acceleration before being acquired by Juniper in April 2005.

Actona / Cisco Systems
Actona was a small file caching vendor and was founded in 2000.  Their first product was focused on the "WAFS" or Wide-area File Services market where CIFS acceleration enabling global collaboration and file server consolidation were key value propositions.  In June 2004, Cisco entered the WAFS market by acquiring Actona.  Cisco later bolted on TCP acceleration and byte-level data reduction onto Actona’s file caching architecture and the first version of WAAS was born.

Orbital Data / Citrix Systems
Orbital Data was founded in 2002 with a focus on TCP acceleration, specifically in the niche area of big pipes with long latency.  Orbital bolted on CIFS acceleration and was acquired by Citrix in August of 2006 and Citrix’ WANscaler was born.

Swan Labs / F5
Swan Labs was founded in September 2004 and started out as a TCP acceleration company.  F5 acquired Swan Labs a year later in September 2005, added CIFS acceleration, and the WanJet product was re-born as one of F5’s products.

Now that you have a snapshot of where these various vendors and technologies evolved.  Let’s look at how Riverbed entered the market and how the technology has evolved.

Riverbed was founded in 2002 and from day one set out to deliver a product that focused on addressing all the key bottlenecks that impact application performance:  Limited bandwidth, TCP inefficiencies, and poorly performing protocols and applications.  When Riverbed was founded, there were silo approaches in the market.  This included bandwidth optimization (Peribit, Expand,and Packeteer) and file caching (Tacit, Actona, DiskSites).

When Riverbed shipped Steelhead 1.0 to the world in May 2004, it was purpose-built with an architecture that was designed to address the key bottlenecks previously mentioned. Riverbed did not have to change the architecture or acquire and bolt on a technology.  I would hold Riverbed’s May 2004 RiOS 1.0 release up against any of today’s vendor’s products that have gone through a duct tape approach to achieving product capabilities.

The proof is in the pudding.  Riverbed’s products are faster, more scalable, and easier to install and its pretty clear that the purpose built architecture is the reason why. 

One Response to “It’s the architecture stupid!”

  1. Ray Sirois said

    With regards to Cisco WAAS, the latest scoop is “proceed with caution” See Gartner:
    I’ve heard of some difficult Cisco meetings with large WAAS customers about bugs they still can’t work out.
    What makes Riverbed so special and unique in my [customer] perspective? Yes it is that their products simply work, and they go in quickly. But, I think a company is more than just great products. It is also its culture. I don’t know how they do it. Every Riverbed employee I’ve met so far (>20) seems to have the same commitment to customer SERVICE and technical EXCELLENCE. They get to the root of the problem and solve it for me expeditiously. Great product line? Yes! But it is also great people I can truly rely on and do business with in confidence. Bigger companies are less nimble, less able to execute and support us. Their size makes them less able to quickly adjust to customer’s changing needs for both innovative products but also great customer service.

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