Riverbed Expands WAN Optimization Visibility

Do you know what's inside your accelerated packet stream?

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Jan 26, 2010
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What's running on your network?

It may seem like a simple question, but it's not always an easy one to answer for large networks running dozens of applications and myriad protocols. Where it gets particularly challenging is for networks running WAN optimization gear that wants to peek into the packet stream. It's a challenge that WAN optimization vendor Riverbed (NASDAQ: RVBD) is meeting with the new release of its Cascade 8.4 application visibility and monitoring solution.

With the Cascade 8.4 release, Riverbed is integrating application visibility technology with its Steelhead WAN optimization appliances to provide overall network optimization. The Cascade technology was originally acquired by Riverbed as part of its acquisition of Mazu Networks in 2009, for $25 million. Rival WAN acceleration vendor Blue Coat made a similar technology acquisition with Packeteer, adding WAN visibility to its mix.

Now that it has Cascade 8.4 in place, Riverbed's network administrator customers will now be able to accurately identify if application acceleration is actually being experienced by their users -- a level beyond Mazu's previous capabilities.

"If you look at what Mazu was able to do prior to the integration, they were able to give you visibility to report on network information but they were not able to do that for network acceleration," Yoav Eilat, director of product marketing at Riverbed, told InternetNews.com. "So all the numbers were wrong."

The ability to monitor traffic flows with packet capture tools is something that anyone with access to a network can do. However, according to Eilat, Cascade goes several steps further with its analysis and monitoring capabilities.

"The raw information that we collect from the network with all the packets is there for anyone to see," Eilat said. "Where we think we're special is with our analytical model, where all that huge amount of network information is measured and analyzed. Cascade then builds a model of what normal behavior is, and it will show you if anything has changed and is outside of normal behavior."

As part of the Cascade 8.4 release, Riverbed is also introducing a new deployment method. Previously, Cascade was available only as a hardware appliance, but with the 8.4 release, Riverbed is also introducing a new virtual edition called Cascade VE.

With Cascade VE, the monitoring solution can be installed directly onto a Steelhead appliance by way of the Riverbed Services Platform (RSP). The RSP technology debuted in 2008 and enables Riverbed's Steelhead WAN acceleration appliances to run virtual services on the device.

In addition to the Cascade appliance -- which might be installed at a local branch office -- or the Cascade VE installation, the solution requires the Cascade profiler and gateway, which are the datacenter components that collect the traffic and handle networking traffic analysis.

Cascade 8.4 also takes advantage of some new capabilities that Riverbed introduced with its RiOS 6 operating system for Steelhead in 2009. For instance, Eilat said that RiOS 6.0 generates its own flow record so that the Cascade profiler and gateway can read them.

"There are certain types of information that you can collect even without running the Cascade VE product," Eilat said. "So even if you just have RiOS 6, then with no additional installation you do get some more information sent from the remote offices. It doesn't give to the same level of performance monitoring, but does give some basic statistics."

For the future, Eilat said that Riverbed will continue to improve Cascade as networking challenges and priorities evolve.

"There are lots of big topics under discussion at Riverbed around cloud computing," Eilat said. "There will also be even tighter integration between the Cascade product and the Steelhead product. We think there is even more integration and ability to have the products feed one another with information so you can do more interesting things."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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