The Riverbed Blog (testing)

A blog in search of a tagline

Will Cisco ever catch up to Riverbed?

Posted by riverbedtest on January 26, 2010

It’s no secret that WAAS lacks many features and capabilities offered by the market-leading Riverbed product.  But Cisco continuously justifies the purchase of their less-capable WAAS product by promising to customers that the next software release will resolve all of WAAS's problems and bugs, and finally be the "Riverbed killer."  And this reasoning sometimes works; many customers have suffered with WAAS–often for years–because of the expectation that "Cisco will catch up to Riverbed.” But now times are changing–many are starting to wonder if Cisco can ever execute on these promises.


Cisco's promises to deliver a "Riverbed killer" now date back some five years; WAAS is not a new product.  Rather, WAAS has a history that dates back to March of 2000, almost ten years ago when it was originally created as a file caching device called ActaStor.  That product was purchased by Cisco in 2004, and eventually re-named WAAS.  Through the five-year timeframe that Cisco has owned and developed WAAS, the product has been subjected to a rushed and chaotic development environment.  There was intense pressure on Cisco’s developers to quickly introduce the new features needed to “catch up to Riverbed,” and this naturally spawned numerous bugs and other software problems that have plagued WAAS, and caused a number of serious difficulties for Cisco’s early WAAS customers.


As software professionals know, an emphasis on quick feature releases and short-term fixes eventually undercuts itself as the overall product becomes hard to understand, modify, and support. Today’s WAAS product appears to be afflicted with extremely complex underlying software, primarily resulting from WAAS’s rushed development environment.   Due to its complexity, in recent years a pattern developed—every time Cisco released new WAAS features and capabilities, there would be a deluge of newly created bugs in that software release.  This was the case with a number of WAAS 4.0 releases, as well as the more recent WAAS 4.1.1 and 4.1.3 releases.  Even Cisco’s own product documentation reveals that WAAS 4.1.3 was delivered to customers with more known bugs than any previous version of WAAS software.


Bug problems in Cisco WAAS have become such an issue that the most recent WAAS software release—version 4.1.5—introduces no major new capabilities beyond a number of minor features that are essentially bug fixes.  It seems that WAAS release 4.1.5 is purely devoted to fixing existing problems found in the earlier WAAS software releases.  It has now been nearly a year since Cisco last released a major new feature for WAAS–SSL optimization–and that feature was delivered several months late.  While Riverbed was adding a raft of new features and capabilities in latest RiOS 5.5 and 6.0 software releases, Cisco has had to effectively suspend new WAAS feature development for the past year to focus on bug fixes. 


If historic patterns from the past five years of WAAS product development continue, WAAS customers can expect two things from Cisco’s future WAAS development efforts:  1) a deluge of bugs with any new WAAS software release containing major new features, and 2) long waiting periods to resolve those bugs before the new software features can be used in a production environment.

No one can tell the future; perhaps Cisco’s claims of catching up to Riverbed may still come true.  However, given the complexities that seem to exist deeply within the WAAS product, I believe that outcome is unlikely.  While individual bugs can be fixed, the underlying conditions that cause bugs in the WAAS product are much more difficult to address.  These are fundamental, long-term problems that have evolved over years, which possibly can only be fixed by starting over from scratch, through a compete re-write of the WAAS software.  Not only is there a wide gap in existing product capabilities, but WAAS’s underlying software is now so complex that adding new features and capabilities takes significantly more time, effort and development resources.  As a result, many observers have come to the conclusion that the most likely future scenario is that Cisco’s WAAS will continue to fall further behind Riverbed in product capabilities.

One Response to “Will Cisco ever catch up to Riverbed?”

  1. jordan 12 said

    All sentences are about something or an individual. The something or another person that the sentence is about is named the topic from the sentence. From your blog, I see that, and analyze some thing I’d like. Thanks for sharing.

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