The Riverbed Blog (testing)

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Five key reasons to choose Riverbed over Cisco WAAS

Posted by riverbedtest on April 13, 2010

When talking to prospective customers, I often get the question "why Riverbed?"  After all, over the past five years, Cisco has been offering a WAN optimization product that competes against Riverbed.  Surely, after five years you would think that they have addressed any problems or issues that might have affected early adopters, right?

Beyond getting into a detailed discussion about often obscure differences between Cisco WAAS and Riverbed Steelhead, what I find helpful in these situations is to point out some high-level verifiable observations about Cisco's WAN optimization efforts, such as:

1.  An extraordinary number of former Cisco WAAS customers have already switched to Riverbed — it's interesting to note that Riverbed customers are extremely loyal—they gave Riverbed an average overall satisfaction rating of 8.41 (out of 10) in Riverbed’s most recent semi-annual customer satisfaction survey conducted in October of 2009.  However, it’s unlikely that Cisco will be conducting satisfaction surveys of their WAAS customers, because an unusually-large number of them have removed their WAAS devices, and are now Riverbed customers.   Many of these former WAAS customers have recounted to us how they had struggled with WAAS for years before finally switching to Riverbed; others are relatively recent WAAS customers who gave up after a few months when they were not able to stabilize their WAAS deployments.

2.  WAAS product development seems to be slowing or stagnating – Only a short while ago, Cisco would aggressively make bold claims about how the next upcoming WAAS software release will “catch up to Riverbed.”  But now, they don’t seem to be making those claims anymore; rather, Cisco’s development of their WAAS product seems to have stagnated. In fact, it has now been one year since Cisco last introduced a major new feature or capability for their WAAS product (SSL optimization, which was released several months late in 4.1.3).  Strangely, the most recent WAAS 4.1.5 software release introduced no new major features or capabilities except for a number of bug fixes; 4.1.5 appears to be primarily aimed at correcting and fixing bugs that afflicted earlier WAAS releases.  In that same period of time, Riverbed has released two major software versions in the past year (RiOS 5.5 and 6.0), each of which offer a number of significant enhancements and capabilities to the Steelhead solution.

3.  Cisco WAAS product capabilities continue to lag far behind Riverbed – WAAS is missing a number of key features available in the Riverbed product, including optimization of encrypted Exchange (MAPI), SMB-signed CIFS traffic, Macintosh CIFS, Citrix ICA, Lotus Notes, Microsoft SQL, Oracle Forms, and layer-7 HTTP acceleration.  WAAS also lacks Riverbed’s capabilities to prepopulate Exchange data, synchronize data stores, and address asymmetric routed traffic while deployed in-path.  Finally, Cisco lacks a high-end WAAS appliance with solid-state disks (SSD’s) comparable to Riverbed’s Steelhead 7050, and a WAAS-aware load balancer equivalent to Riverbed’s Interceptor for scaling deployments in very large networks.

4.  WAAS Mobile is not really Cisco product – Rather, WAAS Mobile is just a rebranded software product from ViaSat that is re-sold by Cisco.  This makes WAAS Mobile a very unusual product within Cisco’s product line, since Cisco does not have a strong history of reselling products from other companies (rather, Cisco is known for purchasing companies and products).  Because WAAS Mobile is not a Cisco product, the future strategic direction of WAAS Mobile is unclear.  This is an important issue for customers with mobile software requirements in WAN optimization, because ViaSat has been shifting development and marketing resources away from WAAS Mobile (including employee layoffs).

5.  WAAS data store fragmentation remains a serious scalability and performance issue – A single file accessed by 10 different branch offices must be stored 10 separate times in the central WAAS device.  In a comparable deployment using Riverbed, the central Steelhead only stores that file only once.  In other words, WAAS will consume its DRE storage capacity 10 times faster than Riverbed; with 100 branch offices, WAAS consumes storage 100 times faster than Riverbed.  We are aware of WAAS deployments where the data store “wraps” every few hours, meaning that much of the byte-level data that is written to the disk drives of the WAAS device is purged before it can be useful.  This leads to wasteful “churn” of disk drive activity from data that is repeatedly written and erased before it is used even once by WAAS.  Cisco has attempted to explain away this data store fragmentation issue as not significant, or even that their approach is superior to Riverbed’s.  That suggests Cisco has no plans to fix this problem.  In contrast, in a typical Riverbed deployment the Steelhead’s data store wraps every few months; a situation where the data store that wraps more often than once per week is reason for concern by Riverbed engineers, and a reason to upgrade the Steelhead appliance.

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One Response to “Five key reasons to choose Riverbed over Cisco WAAS”

  1. Uli said

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