Monday, November 7, 2011

Thinking Faster

Last week I was fortunate to attend training in San Francisco at Riverbed headquarters for the Steelhead Appliance Deployment and Management. I was stoked to get some time in the city to learn more about what I would consider one of the most innovative global enterprise network products available on the market today.

Riverbed is a 20th century company that only exists due to the two largest factors driving our world today 1) corporate globalization and 2) the Internet. The company might get lumped into a technology communications category by Wall Street, folks in the Bay Area know better to compare them to Cisco, Juniper, and the like. For the larger companies, this niche would seem a natural extension of the feature set.

The Riverbed Steelhead appliance, through human innovation is literally able to move bits faster than the speed of light. The company pioneered the wide area application acceleration. This technology relieves multinational companies the burdens of inflated monthly recurring costs related to long haul data circuits instead with modest capitol expenditure. The Steelhead appliance provides what a genius colleague has described as ‘pure magic’.

To the accountants, it creates some magic on the books turning a fixed cost into a depreciating asset. It equally mystifies IT departments and their customers with the ability to turn slow WAN links into blazingly fast network resources. I arrived in San Francisco last Sunday night off the Embarcadero to learn more about Steelhead and what I can do to help push our network’s envelope with this powerful tool.

I stayed just a few blocks from Fremont Street where Riverbed HQ is located and brought my skateboard to kick to and fro in true Santa Cruz form. I arrived early daily and grabbed a front seat. The first day was an introduction to the technology. Our instructor, Maximus was explicit to point out Steelhead was far more than a compression tool. He explained in very granular detail how a pair of Steelheads chop up network streams into bit patterns, create reference files for the patterns, and accelerate the communication by crating local reference stores for the Local Area Network (LAN) requests. When a local reference doesn’t exist for a stream, requests over the Wide Area Network (WAN) are made through a pre built connection pool optimizing the end-to-end delay. The Steelhead essentially tricks local LAN devices into believing that resources are within close reach. It is a technology that was engineered by people well versed in TCP. Maximus joked that ‘TCP is the mule’ and what Riverbed has done is turned this mule into a Clydesdale on steroids.

What I took away from the training is how amazing this product can work out of the box but also how much better it can work with some effort and integration. It comes with a robust set of features including a very mature QoS framework, High Speed TCP support, and encrypted traffic optimization. Riverbed Steelhead is that shiny object I have been looking for during the long months of CCIE preparation. I look forward to working more with this technology and well-assembled team of support/training resources.