Version 2.0 is designed to make it easier for customers to give remote offices speedy access to centralized servers running back at headquarters, company officials said.
The appliance provides fast LAN-like performance over a WAN by fixing the response problems that are typical in running applications over WAN connections.
These include bandwidth shortages that cause poor application performance, balky remote data backup and replication, and server and site consolidation problems.
New features in Version 2.0 include a Microsoft SQL Server acceleration module designed to improve the performance of applications that use SQL Server as the database back end.
Version 2.0 also includes a proxy file service that enables the network to continue to serve files locally even when the WAN is down. This feature enables the automatic replication of local files to the data center for disaster recovery and faster restoration of remote office servers.
Version 2.0 also includes support for high-speed TCP that can deliver throughputs in the range of 500M to 620M bps on Gigabit Ethernet or OC-12 WAN Links. This will work even on long-distance intercontinental links where round-trip latencies are typically several hundred milliseconds.
Riverbed Technology Inc. is scheduled to ship Steelhead 2.0 on July 28, with prices starting at $7,500.
The Stanley Group, an engineering and architecture firm in Muscatine, Iowa, is using the Steelhead accelerator to improve the performance of its Microsoft Exchange 2003 e-mail and file-sharing applications, said Kevin Masden, the firms network analyst.
"We really think that the appliance has enhanced our wide area network performance significantly," Masden said. "We have seen 60 percent traffic reductions for our exchange traffic and reductions ranging from 40 to 70 percent for our file-sharing traffic."
The company had been working with the earlier Steelhead version for about the past eight months and has beta tested version 2.0 for the past month, he said.
The Stanley Group selected Riverbeds accelerator because it performs optimization on several layers, including TCP traffic, SQL transactions and Exchange e-mail traffic, Masden said, whereas most of the other products that the company looked at didnt include these features in a single package.
The Stanley Group plans to use Steelhead to optimize WAN performance to the firms 13 remote sites, he said. So far, the company has connected two offices to the Steelhead appliance, and the overall goal is to centralize some IT resources and set up "serverless" offices that access data from servers based in headquarters, Masden explained.
This goal is possible because of the much improved response that Steelhead provides, he said, adding that users experience tends to be much better because the response times are much quicker.
Riverbed is addressing an important market segment with Steelhead, because enterprises are rapidly "moving toward browser-based interfaces and away from client/server" as their application platform, said Joe Skorupa, principal analyst with Gartner Inc.s Communications Research unit.
The problem is that when they deploy these applications they are subject to the bandwidth limitations of the WAN rather than the typically faster response times of local area networks that users are familiar with, Skorupa said.
The performance problem is so serious, he said, that effective application acceleration technology can spell the difference between "the successful rollout of a browser-based application and a business failure—the problem is that serious," Skorupa said.
This is also one of the reasons why total spending on application acceleration technology exceeded $1 billion in 2004 and will likely more than double in 2005, he said.
There have been a number of acquisitions this year in the application-acceleration field, with Juniper Networks Inc. acquiring Peribit Networks Inc. and Redline Network Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. acquiring FineGround Networks Inc. Meanwhile, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. took a minority investment in Tacit Networks Inc.
However, this remains a vigorous technology sector with a significant number of independent companies, including F5 Networks Inc., Packeteer Inc., Swan Labs Corp. and Expand Networks Inc.
"Its a very vibrant market and its driven by a desire to facilitate server centralization, reduce cost and ease regulatory compliance," Skorupa said.