The Riverbed Blog (testing)

A blog in search of a tagline

10 Key Questions that Blue Coat doesn’t want you to ask them

Posted by riverbedtest on September 9, 2009

In any emerging market there are vendors who are technology innovators, and there are incumbent vendors in neighboring spaces who attempt to claim leadership in the emerging area through innovative marketing.  WAN optimization is no exception to this observation.  While it is easy to update web sites and data sheets with the "correct" marketing message, and to add superficial features that mimic a competitor's product, it is far harder to build a truly innovative product that creates value for customers.

Although Blue Coat has a 10+ year history focused on web caching and web security, they have recently made aggressive claims regarding market leadership in WAN optimization.  To validate these claims of leadership, I have listed 10 key questions that are important for any Blue Coat customer to explore:

10)  How can Blue Coat scale WAN optimization deployments if their ProxySG product uses a per-peer data store architecture for the Byte Cache?  In an earlier blog, I discussed this important issue that affects both Blue Coat and Cisco WAAS:

9)  If the write-back setting for CIFS acceleration involves data integrity risks, then why would Blue Coat enable this feature by default?  Page 70 of Volume 2 in the Blue Coat SGOS 5.4 manual warns that data loss can occur if the WAN experiences a disconnect while using Blue Coat's CIFS write-back feature.  Personally, I would think that risk of data loss is serious-enough of a consequence that this write-back feature should be disabled by default.  Note that unlike Blue Coat, the Riverbed Steelhead does not use a cache architecture, and therefore does not add any new risk of data loss or corruption for CIFS acceleration.  This is certainly proven out by the thousands of Riverbed customers who are actively using the Steelhead solution in its default configuration for CIFS acceleration.

8)  How many Blue Coat customers are using ProxySG for WAN optimization of non-web traffic?  This is a question that Blue Coat has steadfastly refused to answer, as if they didn't know (and what market leader wouldn't know what their products are being used for?).  But in a 2 June 2009 teleconference, Blue Coat CEO Brian Nesmith gave a clue by stating, "In [pure] WAN optimization, we win deals based on our ability to accelerate two key application areas — secure web applications and video streaming."  Associating web applications with WAN optimization is a clever word-play, because it allows Blue Coat to claim leadership in WAN optimization on the basis of legacy web caching features and capabilities that they have offered since the 1990's.

7)  Why is there so little discussion about WAN optimization on Blue Coat's community forums?  If Blue Coat is truly the leader in WAN optimization, then I would expect their customers to be actively discussing WAN optimization topics in Blue Coat's community forums.  This is certainly the case with Riverbed's community forums (, and you also see some discussion about WAAS and WAN optimization in Cisco's NetPro forums.  But in the case of Blue Coat's community forums (, the discussion seems exclusively focused on web security topics such as how to filter You Tube.  There is almost no discussion at all about WAN optimization (or at least how the general market would define WAN optimization).

6)  How does Blue Coat's dual Object Cache/Byte Cache architecture affect ProxySG's ability to scale throughput and performance?  Most computer systems bottleneck performance on disk I/O, unless you're talking about an embedded disk-less system.  After all, disk seek/read/write times are much slower than RAM memory access times, and I would think the same to be true for Blue Coat's caching systems.  But the difference with Blue Coat compared to Riverbed is that ProxySG must read and write cached data on disk twice–once in the Object Cache, and again in the Byte Cache.  Having to read and write the same data to disk two times should raise throughput/performance scalability concerns.  In contrast, with Riverbed data is only represented once on disk, in the byte-level SDR data store.

5)  Why is Blue Coat's user manual 3000 pages long?  Does this indicate that the product is difficult to use?  Ease-of-use and simplicity are key elements of a solution that can be deployed and maintained in large networks.  A complex product breeds more complexity and frustration.

4)  Why would Blue Coat as a "security" vendor offer a product lacking disk encryption for persistent disk data?  Any vendor with substantional deployments in WAN optimization would know that customers will be using them in all types of office locations, including small branch offices which may lack adequate security over weekends and evenings.  An intruder can easily steal the disk drives of the ProxySG device, which store in cleartext passwords, security certificates, credit card numbers and any other data that users send over supposedly-secure SSL connections.

3)  When will Blue Coat deliver a one-box solution for WAN optimization/web security/QoS/traffic monitoring?  This was the original promise of Blue Coat's acquisition of Packeteer, but it appears the long-awaited integrated one-product solution will not happen at all.  In contrast, Riverbed's RSP provides the framework to deliver WAN optimization, web security, QoS enforcement, and traffic monitoring capabilities, all in a single Steelhead appliance.

2)  Why are PacketShaper revenues declining?  According to SEC documents, historic PacketShaper product revenues (not including support or services revenue) from before their acquisition by Blue Coat exceeded $25M per quarter over several quarters in 2006 and 2007.  But Blue Coat's most recent PacketShaper quarterly product revenues amounted to only $15M.  It appears PacketShaper is losing significant revenue.

1)  Can Blue Coat scale WAN optimization for non-Web traffic?  As noted in question 8 above, it seems Blue Coat is largely claiming leadership in WAN optimization based on their legacy ability to cache web traffic.  And I have no doubt that Blue Coat can deploy web caches and proxies to 100's of sites.  But my question is can Blue Coat's WAN optimization features for CIFS and Exchange be scaled for full deployment in large networks?  There is no evidence to support that they can.  Rather, the evidence indicates that when you exclude web cache deployments, most Blue Coat WAN optimization deployments are quite small–three to nine boxes according to Blue Coat CEO Brian Nesmith in a 25 Aug 2009 teleconference.


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