The Riverbed Blog (testing)

A blog in search of a tagline

Cisco’s WAAS 4.2 release

Posted by riverbedtest on June 23, 2010

This week, Cisco released WAAS 4.2.  But unless you've been paying close attention to obscure postings on Cisco's community website, you probably haven't noticed.  Departing from their previous behavior in past WAAS releases, it now seems Cisco doesn't even care if their customers know about their newest WAAS software.  For whatever reason, Cisco seems to want to keep expectations low.

Normally, this would be a climatic event.  Back in August 2006 Cisco made every attempt to sensationalize the introduction of WAAS 4.0.  Actively encouraged by Cisco, a number of industry pundits even predicted WAAS 4.0 would be the "Riverbed killer."  But the numerous accounts of painful experiences from WAAS users clearly showed that Cisco's effort to catch up to Riverbed had failed.  All Cisco could do was to promise to fix the bugs and add the missing features in the next WAAS release.

Fast forward to June of 2008.  Again, Cisco actively encouraged and sponsored broad industry press coverage to herald the introduction of their new WAAS 4.1 release.  Cisco boldly declared that WAAS 4.1 had fixed the problems with their earlier WAAS 4.0 release, and had added the features needed to catch up to Riverbed.  Certainly, WAAS 4.1 did add some new features, but bugs and other issues surfaced with a vengeance, making WAAS painful to use, if not completely unusable in larger networks.  All Cisco could do was to again, promise to fix the bugs and add the missing features in the next upcoming WAAS release. 

So why isn't Cisco hyping their newest "major" WAAS release as they have in the past? WAAS 4.2 is supposedly the culmination of 2 years of intense development effort by Cisco's dedicated WAAS engineering team.  If Cisco is indeed committed to the WAN optimization market, and if they still have visions of one day dominating this market, then shouldn't they be ratcheting up their marketing?

A perusal of the WAAS 4.2 release notes seems to show why…the list of new features and capabilities in the new software is unimpressive.  This culmination of 2 years of development effort doesn't seem to have produced any major new capabilities. Of course, Cisco will try to spin and rationalize about the importance of each of these minor features (like how support for wildcard-matched domain names in SSL certs–a feature that Riverbed has had for more than two years–are supposedly important for Cloud environments).  But the bottom line remains that more than anything, this "major" software release is yet another attempt to fix bugs and other problems from earlier WAAS software releases.  

In the meantime, over the two-year period that Cisco has taken to engineer WAAS 4.2, Riverbed has introduced three major new RiOS software releases (RiOS 5.5, RiOS 6.0, and RiOS 6.1), each of which offer a number of truly significant new features and capabilites.  As Riverbed's offering continues to advance in its sophistication, WAAS lags further behind, missing an ever-growing list of features and capabilities that are available in the Riverbed solution, including SMB-signed CIFS, Macintosh CIFS (OSX 10.5 & 10.6), encrypted MAPI, MAPI pre-pop, Oracle Forms, Citrix ICA, FCIP, SRDF, Lotus Notes, solid state disks (SSD's), data store synch, etc. 

Given that it's taken Cisco 2 years to engineer what has turned out to be marginal changes and improvements, one has to wonder if future versons of WAAS will be much different from what WAAS customers have to live with today.  Certainly, Cisco's recent timid behavior seems to be an implicit admission that they've given up any hope of catching up to Riverbed.

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