Riverbed looks to speed cloud applications, storage

Riverbed Technology has a plan to help companies accelerate access to applications and storage resources that are located in a cloud computing environment and delivered over the Internet to private data centers, distributed branch offices and mobile end users.

The vendor says it will deliver new products and capabilities in 2010, beginning with a software version of its flagship Steelhead controller. Dubbed "virtual Steelhead for the cloud," this software appliance can run on servers located at a public cloud computing facility.

When enterprises consolidate and virtualize IT infrastructure and applications in their own data centers and deliver applications over the WAN to remote offices and employees, Riverbed's WAN optimization gear plays a role in speeding applications and data transfers. But installing a traditional hardware appliance isn't an option in most public cloud environments.

"As customers move from their private cloud environments into either public environments or hybrid public/private environments, we want our technology to move with them. But there's a bit of a problem because you can't get a physical box into that public cloud," says Eric Wolford, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Riverbed. "Virtual Steelhead for the cloud enables us to move our acceleration technology into that cloud environment."

What customers will wind up with is "a three-way type of acceleration, with a Steelhead box at the remote site, a Steelhead box in their data center in the private cloud, and now the virtual Steelhead in their public cloud," he says.

Riverbed is hosting a cloud launch event Tuesday in New York City, where it plans to show how the virtual Steelhead appliance works, including a demonstration of how to install it on the Amazon Web Services platform.

In addition, Riverbed plans to preview new technology for the acceleration of cloud storage.

Enterprises are interested in the potential cost savings and operational benefits of using cloud storage. But concerns about latency issues, the need to rewrite applications and the possibility of getting locked into a particular cloud provider's platform are hindering adoption.

Cloud storage raises tricky performance issues, Wolford says. There are fundamental inefficiencies in block storage protocols that restrict enterprises from running these protocols over the WAN. "If you try to run a block protocol over the WAN, performance will grind to a halt," he says.

Now Riverbed says it has addressed some of those protocol inefficiencies, specifically for iSCSI, and can boost performance enough to allow enterprises to move their storage assets to sites anywhere in the world - even thousands of miles away from associated computing resources, Wolford says.

It's similar to the way Riverbed's technology deals with application latency, by slashing the number of roundtrips over the WAN that a chatty protocol such as CIFS requires. Now Riverbed is tackling server-to-disk chattiness by cutting roundtrip block requests, Wolford says. "It's very correct to say the high-level pattern is just like we did with applications, making them feel LAN-like over the WAN. We will make storage protocols over the WAN feel SAN-like."

Initially Riverbed plans to focus its cloud storage technology on unstructured data, such as files, mail and Microsoft SharePoint storage. Classic unstructured data workloads such as these lend themselves well to this technology, Wolford says.

If Riverbed can solve the performance issues associated with cloud storage in the way the vendor did for applications and data transfers on the WAN, it will open up the entire market, according to Steve Duplessie, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group.

"High latency alone will limit the types of applications that can find a home in the cloud. Forcing new interfaces or rewriting applications to take advantage of the cloud will be another deal breaker for a lot of folks," Duplessie said in a statement. "If I can think of the cloud the way I think about a disk drive today, the possibilities become truly endless."

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