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Riverbed updates RiOS; Steelhead WAFS device now supports Citrix and disaster recovery

The WAFS vendor is floating a raft of updates to its RiOS operating system, including support for replication and application traffic in the same device, and new security features.

Riverbed Technology Inc. today updated the Riverbed Optimization System (RiOS) software that runs its Steelhead Wide Area Files Services (WAFS) devices, adding support for accelerating Citrix Systems Inc. virtual desktops over wide-area networks (WANs), and improving data protection and security.

Riverbed's RiOS 6 now allows replication processing for disaster recovery or data backup in the same Steelhead device used for application acceleration. Riverbed also added centralized printing and expanded reporting with the new release.

New application support

Steelhead can now optimize Citrix Systems' ICA protocol, which the Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop products use to deliver either centralized application streams or virtual desktop images over a network. Riverbed claims its optimization can lower response times for those applications by 30% to 50%.

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Bob Laliberte, an analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), said this will be the next big trend for enterprises. "As virtual desktop starts gaining popularity and momentum in the enterprises, it will be important to be able to accelerate that traffic," he said. Riverbed already supported VMware virtual desktops.

Jason Schroeder, senior solutions consultant at Riverbed reseller Net Direct Systems, said supporting Citrix as well as VMware virtual desktops will broaden the appeal of the product. "It's been a market Riverbed hasn't really been able to get into," he said. "People tend to look away [from Steelhead] if they have a big Citrix environment."

Some previously supported applications that run on http or https should see improved performance with RiOS 6, including Agile, Microsoft CRM, Microsoft SharePoint, Pivotal CRM and SAP NetWeaver. "Before, we would take apart each Web object to see what parts of it we had stored locally," said Nik Rouda, Riverbed senior product marketing manager for RiOS. "We now keep the entire object in the Steelhead appliance," he said, cutting down on processing time. Riverbed claims this new way of processing http/https traffic is up to 20 times faster than previous versions.

Disaster recovery and backup plus apps in one device

In previous releases, Steelhead customers could optimize application data served to branch offices over the WAN from a central location or optimize highly sequential data streams over the WAN for DR or backup at a secondary site. Until RiOS 6, however, users had to use each Steelhead appliance for one or the other type of traffic. "It was a global setting before, because depending on the type of data, it had to be optimized either from disk or in memory on the Steelhead," Rouda said. "Now we can adaptively switch depending on the demand in the environment."

This setup isn't for everyone, ESG's Laliberte said. "It depends on the size of the company," he said. For small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) without dedicated WAN links, "it makes sense to be able to combine them and prioritize on the fly, especially if they're in a 'bursty' storage environment," Laliberte said.

New security authentication options

Among the features Net Direct Systems' Schroeder said his customers would most look forward to in RiOS 6 are incremental enhancements to the way Riverbed integrates with data security tools, including simplified Windows certificates, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) connections between Steelheads and improved interoperability with firewalls.

New integration with the Microsoft Windows' Server Message Block Version 2 (SMB2) protocol means customers will no longer have to specify each file system connection between trusted clients. Doing that made setting up Windows security certificates cumbersome in previous versions, Riverbed's Rouda said.

Steelheads have worked on a unified trust model, meaning by definition Steelhead devices trust one another. But some customers, such as those in the federal government, requested the ability to choose which devices could authenticate to one another in the case of split private and public-facing networks. These same security-sensitive users also requested that Steelhead devices communicate among each other using encrypted SSL links.

RiOS 6 also improves Steelhead's ability to appear transparent to certain types of firewalls that rely on stateful packet inspection.

User wish list items

Riverbed addressed other features on its users' wish list in RiOS 6:

  • Centralized printing : Steelhead customers can now accelerate print traffic over the WAN, as an option to putting print servers in virtual machines running on Steelhead at branch offices [part of the Riverbed Services Platform (RSP)].
  • Optimization benefit reporting: Riverbed's own reporting tool will now calculate return on investment from WAFS.
  • RSP incremental scalability: RSP users previously had to size all virtual disks in the appliance up front. Now they can add capacity incrementally to RSP.
  • ESG's Laliberte said the biggest item left on Riverbed's to-do list is to refresh Steelhead Mobile with many of these new features.


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