The Riverbed Blog (testing)

A blog in search of a tagline

WAN Optimization of EMC SRDF Comes to the Big Screen

Posted by bobegilbert on May 5, 2011

Today's guest blogger is Phil Rzewski, Riverbed Technical Director and long-time Riverbedian.

Excitement is building toward EMC World in Las Vegas starting May 9th. In preparation, one of my colleagues created a video that demonstrates the benefits of our most recent enhancements to WAN optimization for EMC's SRDF enterprise-class data replication. Viewing the final result gave me reason to pause and reflect on just how far we've come. 

Let's begin at the beginning. When Riverbed introduced the Steelhead appliance in 2004, it was an early product in a new technology space. With claims that our product could effectively overcome the pesky limitations of the speed of light, we really had to prove ourselves. My first task at Riverbed was to build our Technical Marketing team, which meant running tests and publishing the proof that we truly did improve the performance of key apps under tough conditions. The top use cases of the day involved Windows File Sharing and Microsoft Exchange, primarily with the goal of enabling consolidation and centralization of branch office resources into a data center. But the question of backup and replication flows between data centers came up from time-to-time. At Riverbed, we often call this type of traffic "DR" for short. (This is a handy acronym since it can interchangeably stand for "Data Replication" or "Disaster Recovery", hence referring to both a technology and what it enables, in just two letters.)

While the Steelhead had not been initially built with DR-centric Application Streamlining features, we were pleased to find that optimization for DR traffic like NetApp SnapMirror and Symantec NetBackup "just worked". That is, Riverbed's Data Streamlining and Transport Streamlining alone were enough to deliver orders of magnitude improvement in throughput and data reduction over WANs. As you can imagine, realizing you can solve a whole additional set of problems without additional engineering labor is like finding $20 in your pocket.

As the years progressed, Riverbed collected hundreds of success stories with various applications, DR and non-DR alike. We added forums where we shared solid numbers from our lab and customer tests, and this generally provided all the validation necessary to see our deployed appliance counts multiply like bunnies. Bunny   Future waves of customers could ask the question "How will Steelhead WAN optimization improve my app?", and we'd increasingly answer these questions by pointing to a post or a case study that showed all the results and config tips to getting the same great performance.

A funny thing kept happening, though. Once every few months, a customer would ask "Do you optimize EMC's SRDF replication?" These questions usually came from our largest and most demanding customers, so naturally we wanted to help. As a "network guy" not previously exposed to the technology, my quest began with the usual web searches, reading white papers, and viewing presentations trying to get a handle on this "app". Is it run over a WAN? (Check!) Can it transmit via TCP/IP? (Check!) Is the data likely to be bulky and repetitive? (Check!) It sounded like it had the makings of another DR technology for which Steelhead optimization would "just work".

Of course, someone has to go first. Having passed the technical smell-test, I'd honestly admit to customers, "Well, I don't have any existing customer/lab results to share, but it looks like it should optimize well. Let me send you some Steelheads and you can see for yourself."

Then came the follow-on question: "Are you EMC E-Lab qualified?"

More web searches ensued. Of course, at that time we weren't. Should that matter? Well, it turns out it matters a lot. At this point the conversation would end.

"If you're not qualified, we can't touch this. Sorry."

Stop Riverbed employees are not the type to back down from a challenge. A little over 3 years ago, I left my Tech Marketing family to join the Engineering team, built myself a SAN lab (affectionately known as "the DR cave"), and locked myself inside. My first new friends were a pair of EMC Symmetrix DMX arrays. Later a VMAX pair was added as well. This allowed us to test with genuine SRDF traffic and simulate customer environments. After bonding with the technology, the wider Riverbed development squad joined the effort and started cranking out new platforms and code. First came enhancements to our top-end Steelhead throughputs, which ensured we could leverage the big WAN pipes that typically accompany SRDF deployments. This was helped particularly by the introduction of our Steelhead 7050, the industry's first (and still only) all-SSD WAN optimization appliance. Next came our Application Streamlining enhancements to further improve data reduction of SRDF replication streams that were choppily-interrupted by Fibre Channel/FCIP headers and T10-DIF fields. Finally, with assistance from EMC Symmetrix Engineering, we've most recently completed deeper SRDF-integrated features like Auto-Negotiate Compression (for ease-of-deployment and improved failover) and RDF Selective Optimization (for enhanced throughput and visibility).

Logo-emc-elabtested Our first EMC E-Lab qualification for SRDF was completed in early 2009.  This was followed by a rush of customers who were waiting to enjoy the benefits. It warms my geeky heart to see all the technology we've added "under the hood" since then has enabled significantly higher levels of performance compared to when we were initially content to see that DR "just worked". I guess my dad was right: When you find $20 in your pocket, you should invest it and watch it grow.

Of course, to best appreciate our SRDF video, come see Riverbed on the floor of EMC World. We'll be at #921, right by the EMC Select booth.


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