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April 18, 2004

Riverbed offers boxes to streamline IP traffic

Riverbed Technology Inc will come out of stealth mode this week with some software that promises to dramatically speed up wide-area network traffic using novel variations of caching and compression technology.

By CBR Staff Writer

The company, founded in 2002 by former Inktomi executives, will shortly go to general availability with five models of Steelhead appliances, which Riverbed says cut unnecessary chatter from WAN traffic and accelerate certain protocols.

A Steelhead deployment consists of at least two devices, one at either end of the WAN, possibly in a hub and spoke architecture. In the 1.0 release, there are several main feature features that speed traffic, director of marketing Alan Saldich said.

The devices act as TCP/IP proxies, and use a complex proprietary algorithm that Riverbed called scalable data referencing to cache data at remote sites, so that subsequent requests for files are accelerated, according to Saldich.

SDR is a hierarchical referencing system that, in theory, allows an arbitrarily large data set to be represented by a single reference. Because both devices know what the other has stored on its disk, only that reference is transmitted.

The Steelhead appliances also provide the benefits of caching even when files change regularly, Saldich said. When files are edited, more granular references in the hierarchy are employed, and only altered data blocks are transmitted.

The system means only LAN bandwidth is used when clients pull regularly accessed files, avoiding internet latency. The system is different to regular caching and content distribution is that it is application and protocol independent, Saldich said.

A second feature, which is protocol-specific, is designed to cut the overhead of transmitting data using CIFS (Common Internet File System) and MAPI, which is used in Microsoft Exchange client-server communications.

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Riverbed says that these protocols are overly chatty, requiring a lot of back-and-forth that, when going over the WAN, adds lots of latency to file transfers. When there are hundreds or thousands of exchanges in one transfer, a 100ms WAN roundtrip adds up.

But the company has another proprietary algorithm that it says can predict portions of this chatter and intercept it before it leaves the LAN. The Steelheads proxy the protocols, and only transmit the necessary packets over the WAN, speeding performance.

CEO Jerry Kennelly said many companies are looking at ways they can saves costs by geographically consolidating servers, and that Riverbed’s technology can help them do that without compromising performance too much.

If you talk to CIOs today, there’s very strong trend towards site consolidation, Kennelly said. We’re selling in to funded theme here. The company has about 20 beta customers, with more waiting, he said.

The company has some bold promises of speeding up WAN data transfer by up to 100 times, and says that the return-on-investment story is pretty clear to most companies approached so far.

This article is based on material originally published by ComputerWire

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