The Riverbed Blog (testing)

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Archive for March, 2009

So easy to deploy that the hardest part is opening the packaging

Posted by riverbedtest on March 25, 2009

3U receipt 22 Dec 08 003

Warning:  Customer feedback seems to indicate that the hardest part of configuring these Steelheads could be in opening the packaging material!

I recently had an opportunity to host two Riverbed Users Group Meetings (RVUG) on the East Coast.  During these meetings, Riverbed customers have an opportunity to hear about the newest features and capabilities available in Riverbed products.  But for me personally, the most rewarding part of the RVUG is the round-table discussion, which is an opportunity for each customer to share about their experiences in using Riverbed in their network, including likes, dislikes, and ideas for new features that they would like Riverbed to incorporate.

It was during one of these round-table discussions that one customer gave me a serious and angry look, and complained, "It took 15 minutes for us to find a knife to open the box, but only 5 minutes to configure and install the Steelhead…the Riverbed packaging was too difficult to open!"  I stood in stunned silence for a few seconds before I realized that the customer was making a wisecrack, and then the rest of the room erupted in laughter.

Ease of deployment is something that Riverbed's customers consistently rave about.  It's the first and most obvious thing you notice about the Steelhead product when you use it for the first time.  The Steelhead configuration process basically consists of two steps:  1)  give the Steelhead an IP address, and 2) plug it into the network.  Most customers are able to deploy Steelheads–even in relatively complex network configurations–without looking at any Riverbed documentation.  The configuration process for configuring and deploying each individual Steelhead does not become more complex as the size of the network increases–configuring each Steelhead for use in a small network with five sites is essentially the same process as for a larger network with 100 or 1000 sites.  In most cases Riverbed customers are able to deploy their Steelheads without attending formal training classes, or paying professional services costs.  Riverbed's ease-of-use is particularly surprising for new Riverbed customers who have struggled in the past with Cisco WAAS and other competitive solutions.

Riverbed's competitors go to incredible–even eccentric–lengths in trying convince customers that their products are just as easy to use as Riverbed.  Cisco even created a video specifically attempting to dispel entrenched industry-wide perceptions that WAAS is difficult to use.  The video talks about the WAAS quick-start configuration wizard, and implies that the quick-start tool resolves all of the complexities and configuration difficulties that Cisco's customers have ever had with WAAS.  Similarly, Blue Coat recently issued a press release declaring that their new SGOS 5.4 software now has an "intelligent configuration wizard," and they followed Cisco's example by creating their own ease-of-use video.

How realistic are these ease-of-use claims by Riverbed's competitors?  Certainly, any device can be easy to configure and use in an isolated lab environment.  But complexity with Cisco and Blue Coat's WAN optimization products will inevitably surface when these products are exposed to typical issues found in a real-life network environment.  Though these vendors would have you believe otherwise, the reality is that their easy-to-use configuration wizards will provide very little help in addressing asymmetric routing, scalability, reporting, and proper handling of each of the many different types of applications found in a live production enterprise network.

For example, in a larger network environment, Cisco will urge that you use WCCP for traffic re-direction, because their WAAS boxes can't handle high traffic volumes in an in-path/in-line configuration.  A WCCP-based configuration in a large network environment adds significant amounts of complexity, and a huge amount of configuration work due to the number of ACL entries that will be needed.  In the case of Blue Coat, their new "intelligent configuration wizard" does nothing to help the administrator configure the numerous different knobs and settings for each of the numerous Object Caches in the ProxySG product.  Rather, the Blue Coat customer is going to have to wade through the voluminous 3000-page (three thousand pages!) SGOS 5.4 configuration manual.  For comparison purposes, the Riverbed Installation and Configuration Guide for RiOS 5.5 is only 104 pages.  Interestingly, 3000 pages is about 25% longer than the previous 2400 pages for the earlier SGOS 5.3 configuration manual, which hints at new levels of complexity in Blue Coat's new recently-released SGOS 5.4 software.

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Riverbed Cascade and Network Behavioral Analysis (NBA)

Posted by riverbedtest on March 16, 2009

In the few weeks since Riverbed's acquisition of Mazu Networks, I've been able to meet some of our new colleagues and learn about Riverbed's newly-added Cascade line of products.  The more I've discovered about Cascade, the more excited I've become at its potential to add significant value for Riverbed's existing and future customers.  Of particular "coolness" is the fact that Cascade's capabilities go far beyond traditional network reporting.  Rather, Cascade happens to be the leading product in an entirely new product category known as Network Behavioral Analysis (NBA). 

Sure, Packetshaper and dozens of other network reporting products available on the market can spit out voluminous amounts of statistics and hand that data to you in some neat nice-looking graphical interface.  But the real question is can you make sense of all that data?  Can you tell if Application X is performing adequately from the perspective of the end-user?  Or of the 1000's of IP addresses on your network, which is the one that is doing something suspicious?

The fact is Riverbed Cascade offers far more than the capabilities of traditional network reporting products such as Packeteer.  Those legacy products merely feed you statistics; it's up to you to decide which of the 100's or 1000's of statistics that you are looking at has any significance.  And of course, the larger your network, the more statistics you get, to the point where information overload sets in, and you don't know what you're looking at, or what you're looking for.

That is the problem that Cascade is designed to address.  Cascade's NBA technology looks at historical behavioral patterns to determine if something out of the ordinary is happening.  Cascade sifts through the volumes of statistical data so that you don't have to, and alerts you when it finds meaningful behavioral changes anywhere in your network.  Unlike Packeteer and other traditional network reporting tools that present data from a per-link or per-device perspective, Cascade provides you with a high-level network-wide perspective of the health of your IT infrastructure.  Rather than merely providing you with round-trip ping times to each of your remote sites, Cascade tells you whether your end-users are experiencing fast application response times. Instead of only relying on gateway security systems deployed on your network perimeter, Cascade provides you with an added layer of security protection by monitoring the behavior of all of your internal network hosts, and alerting you to internal attacks that traditional firewall-based security systems are not equipped to detect or protect against.

This last aspect of Cascade is particularly interesting, because NBA technology actually grew from the need to identify threats that traditional security systems (e.g., firewalls, IDS/IPS, antivirus) were not designed to identify.  Cascade complements these defenses by detecting internal attacks from unauthorized users, activity, or software inside your network.

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Riverbed Services Platform–Worth the upgrade

Posted by riverbedtest on March 10, 2009

I recently had an interesting meeting with the CIO of a long-time Riverbed customer.  This customer had purchased their xx10 series Steelhead appliances years ago, in early 2005.  As has happened with many other Riverbed customers, these Steelhead appliances had become an integral part of their IT infrastructure, and their business could not function without them.  But after many years of dependable service, these older Steelheads models were soon going to be unsupportable because the hardware components were now so old that they were no longer available from Riverbed's suppliers.

While supremely happy with their Steelheads, the CIO was somewhat disappointed about having to upgrade their Steelheads in a difficult economic period.  But then the meeting progressed to to a discussion about the Riverbed Services Platform (RSP).


As we discussed the various software services and applications that can be hosted on RSP, the discussion brightened markedly.  RSP would allow this company to remove a significant number of servers that were locally hosted in their 30 branch offices.  While the original deployment of Steelhead 1010 appliances some four years ago had allowed the company to remove dozens of servers from their branch offices, there were still a number of servers in the branch offices needed to provide local file and print services for a number of specialized applications.  With RSP, these servers could now be removed as well from the branch offices, as the needed services could now be provided by Windows Server 2003 (which they already had licenses for) and other applications running on RSP.  It became quite apparent that RSP would add compelling value to the business and save significant amounts of money.  Not lost in the discussion was the fact that the new Steelhead 1050 appliance model would be needed anyway to replace the ancient Steelhead 1010 appliances, which did not have the hardware resources to support RSP.  But it was clear that the cost savings and efficiency improvements from RSP more than justified the investment in the new Steelhead appliances.

Because RSP is based on VMWare technology, its software virtualization capabilities have been proven in millions of implementations around the world.  Though Riverbed's VMWare-based capabilities were only recently available in RiOS 5.5 (released November 2008), this observation has provided enough confidence for many customers to quickly deploy it.  Already, I am aware of a number customers who have already deployed RSP to as many as 30-40 sites in their production networks.  Many others are now actively testing RSP in their labs.  Unlike competitive approaches such as Cisco's Windows on WAAS, which uses open-source KVM software, Riverbed's capabilities and deployment options extend beyond just Windows core server.  Some customers have been able to deploy additional applications on full versions of Windows hosted on RSP.  Others are using RSP to host Windows Media Server or Wowza Media Server for multimedia delivery, or Infoblox for IP address management. Still others have leveraged RSP to host their own in-house proprietary applications.  The flexibility and options provided by Riverbed through RSP are limitless.

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The R-Team Rescues Replication

Posted by riverbedtest on March 2, 2009

“If you have a Replication problem, if no one else can help, maybe you should call the R-Team”

As the Senior Sales Engineer for Australia (a continent the size of North America), I’ve become used to our clever Australia/New Zealand SE team solving tough problems for customers over the past 3.5 years.  However, once in a while, customers make things even more interesting by asking us to “deliver the impossible”.

Read on for more details of how the R-Team allowed an Enterprise customer to deliver EMC SRDF/A replication between States without expensive increases to WAN bandwidth.

In early 2008, the phone rang at the R-Team Australian HQ, with an interesting request from one of our large customers.  This customer, impressed with the WAN Optimization delivered by our Steelhead appliances across its Global WAN, asked if we’d be able to help with a large Disaster Recovery initiative that was facing challenges. 

The customer had just purchased two large EMC DMX Symmetrix storage arrays (one in Sydney, the other in Melbourne) and wanted to implement SRDF/A replication between the Cities for their mission critical systems.  The problem?  EMC’s detailed analysis of their rate of change of ‘track’ data on the arrays meant that they’d need an expensive and dedicated 100Mb/s link between States, while what the customer actually had was a 20Mb/s link which needed to be shared with their usual WAN traffic (Email, file sharing etc.)

Knowing that the smart Engineering team at Riverbed had incorporated the ability to optimize SRDF/A Data Replication data into RiOS™ (the Riverbed Optimization System) and that we were working together with EMC on formal SRDF/A qualification, one of my colleagues (another senior member of the Australian SE team and a Cisco CCIE) sprang into action to solve this customer's immediate challenge.  Through focus by Riverbed, our loyal customer, our storage-savvy Partner and EMC’s Australian SE team, this particular customer’s configuration was tuned and certified under EMC’s custom qualification program.

The joint EMC and Riverbed solution was a roaring success and enabled the customer to “deliver the impossible” – replicating its Enterprise systems across States via SRDF/A without increasing bandwidth – and it has been in Production since mid 2008.


A screen shot of Riverbed’s RiOS solution delivering 8.2X data reduction for SRDF/A data

Today, with the finalization of EMC E-Lab Qualification of Riverbed’s Steelhead appliances, delivering these kinds of benefits to EMC SRDF/A customers has become even simpler – no longer requiring custom qualification.  For details please see the following Press Release:

So, do you do have a tough Replication problem?  If so, Think Fast™ and drop me a line..  The R-Team will be happy to speed into action to help in our RiOS-accelerated black and grey GMC Vandura van!

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