Riverbed Technology and Cisco Systems are squaring off in a David-and-Goliath contest for dominance in the fast-growing application acceleration/WAN optimization space.
Market leader Riverbed on Aug. 28 turned its attention to scaling its technology. The goal: gain broad market acceptance among large enterprises that need to speed up the performance of centralized applications delivered to hundreds of branch offices via pokey WAN links.
Riverbed might have the technology edge, but Ciscos taking note. The industry Goliath is finally waking up and plans to launch a competitive offering of its own on Sept. 5. Called WAAS (Wide Area Application Services), the offering combines WAN optimization, application acceleration and WAFS (wide-area file services) in a single product.
Although Cisco is late to market with a truly competitive offering, it now has an opportunity to use its dominance as a networking supplier to catch up, said Joe Skorupa, an analyst with Gartner, in Fremont, Calif.
"What they have now is a credible offering from a feature standpoint," Skorupa said. "It is to the point where its good enough to be considered. For a company like Cisco, thats what they need. It still has to be proven in the market that its scalable and robust and works in lots of different configurations."
For beta testers at architectural and engineering company RS&H, Ciscos offering was competitive enough to give the company the edge over Riverbed, according to Harold Hamm, vice president of IT at RS&H, in Jacksonville, Fla.
"Riverbed has a strong solution, but I have a pretty big Cisco investment. Being a Cisco product—that carried a lot of weight with me," said Hamm, who is using one of the new Cisco WAAS appliances to speed the delivery of large CAD files across a WAN.
WAAS is software that can run either in new network modules for Ciscos 2800, 3700 and 3800 ISRs (Integrated Services Routers) or in three new Cisco appliances: the Wide-area Application Engine 512 series, 612 series and 7326 series.
WAAS combines application acceleration and WAFS with a variety of WAN optimization techniques, including compression, redundancy elimination, transport optimizations, caching and content distribution.
WAAS integrates with policies and services implemented in Ciscos IOS (Internetwork Operating System) software, and the software in the data-
center-based 7326 can support up to 4 million concurrent TCP connections, according to George Kurian, vice president of Ciscos Application Delivery Business Unit, in San Jose, Calif.
Riverbed, meanwhile, upgraded its RiOS (Riverbed Optimization System) software and added three new high-end appliances to scale deployments to hundreds or thousands of sites.
The San Francisco companys high-end Interceptor 9200, one of the high-end appliances that allow clustering of multiple Steelhead appliances, tops out at 1 million concurrent TCP connections and 4,000 remote sites, said Alan Saldich, marketing vice president at Riverbed.
Riverbeds other new appliances are the Steelhead 6020, which supports up to 310M-bps WAN bandwidth, 40,000 concurrent TCP connections and 3.2TB of disk capacity, and the Steelhead 5520, which provides 155M-bps WAN bandwidth, 15,000 concurrent TCP connections and a 1.5TB disk.
Riverbeds RiOS 3.0 software release delivers application streamlining for Unix file sharing based on NFS (Network File System), enhanced CIFS (Common Internet File System) acceleration aimed at collaborative applications such as Microsofts Visio, the ability to set QOS (quality-of-service) parameters in Steelhead devices rather than in routers and the ability to export traffic data to a Cisco NetFlow device for greater visibility into WAN usage.
That makes users at civil and environmental engineering company Wright-Pierce even happier, said IT Manager Ray Sirois.
"I needed to be able to see more of what was on the other side of the appliances," said Sirois in Topsham, Maine. "For example, who in that branch office is the biggest talker? If I have a network slowdown because someones doing something foolish, I need to know that."
Beyond its technical advances, what pioneer Riverbed brings to the table is breadth of experience in the WAN optimization and application acceleration market, said Rob Whiteley, an analyst with Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass.
"They have the most operational experience—[theyve] been in the most pilots, most deployments. They have the biggest wealth of customers to tap into to say, Heres what you need to be doing," Whiteley said. "Now they have all the big Wall Street banks and companies that operate with hundreds of branch offices saying, Now make it work enterprisewide. This is more of a sign of Riverbeds maturity and its leadership position."
With Cisco finally catching up to the market with a competitive offering, the question for many customers now is: Can they wait for Cisco to shake out the new product and gain their technical services footing, or should they go with a smaller, more experienced vendor with proven expertise? The answer to that, Whiteley said, depends on how acute the pain of slow application response time is now for a corporate customer.
Ciscos ISR WAAS modules are not due until the fourth quarter, although the appliance-based versions are available now. Riverbeds new appliances and software upgrades are available now.