Riverbed: Visibility, Automation Key To Hybrid Networks, Hybrid Clouds

Riverbed CEO Jerry Kennelly

It is time for customers and partners to be agents of disruption as enterprises move away from traditional IT infrastructures and toward the adoption of hybrid enterprises and hybrid clouds.

That's the message from WAN optimization and networking performance technology provider Riverbed at its annual Riverbed Force conference, held this week in San Jose, Calif.

Riverbed CEO and Co-founder Jerry Kennelly set the tone for his company's focus on the new world of IT by noting during his opening keynote that a lot has changed since Riverbed introduced its first product, the SteelHead WAN optimization appliance, in 2004.

[Related: Riverbed Force 2014: New SteelHead Solution, Technology Alliance Program]

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Back then, Kennelly said, enterprises were dealing with hard-wired routers and switches.

"Today you're dealing with software-defined networks and software-defined data centers. ... It's a very complicated world," he said. "It's an exciting world."

At the same time, the way vendors and enterprises alike deal with issues has changed in that customers will no longer accept finger-pointing or blame games, Kennelly said.

"We used to talk about the mean time to innocence," he said. "Now we talk about the mean time to resolution. It doesn't matter if you are innocent or not. You need to resolve customers' big issues."

The complexities involved in developing IT infrastructures will continue to grow as everyone from users to enterprises explore new ways to access online information, entertainment or business data via the Internet or public or private clouds, said Riverbed Chief Scientist Hansang Bae.

Bae, during his keynote presentation, described the system for accessing all that information as including high-bandwidth multi-protocol label switching, or MPLS, between network nodes, and lower-cost Internet transport, which provides end-to-end or host-to-host communication.

Users want to take advantage of Internet transport to reach out between branch offices or to the cloud, but face security issues because users and applications can be anywhere, Bae said. That issue can be managed in part by VPNs. "But it's complicated," he said.

Riverbed is approaching this hybrid cloud access question with its SteelHead WAN optimization appliance, Bae said.

SteelHead appliances inspect all routing and switching traffic with deep packet inspection irrespective of the IP address of the users. They can also direct Internet transport paths for cloud applications as needed, and provide security for the transport, he said.

"With inspect, direct and protect, we're very well positioned (for the cloud)," he said. "Riverbed can help you make the cloud a part of your data center. That's why I say, Riverbed is not just useful, but also required, to use the cloud."

NEXT: New Paths To Information, New Headaches

The ability to inspect, direct and protect is getting more important as new initiatives roll out, such as Google's pilot program to offer Kansas City, Mo.-based residents a 1-Gbit fiber connection for $70 per month, said Paul O'Farrell, senior vice president and general manager of Riverbed's SteelHead line.

At the same time, the industry is being challenged by a sprawling application environment, lack of visibility into application performance and a loss of control in the public Internet, O'Farrell said during his keynote presentation. At the same time, however, IT departments are responsible for ensuring the hybrid cloud and hybrid network perform as expected, he said.

O'Farrell used that complexity as a backdrop for introducing the new SteelHead 9.0 and SteelCentral AppResponse 9.5.

Version 9.0 of the SteelHead WAN optimization appliance is being integrated with the company's SteelCentral AppResponse 9.5 software to make it easier to gain visibility when troubleshooting to SteelHead-optimized and non-optimized enterprise Web and SaaS applications, O'Farrell said.

Riverbed is also working more closely with vendor partners to integrate Riverbed technology into complete solutions that address the hybrid network and hybrid cloud.

For instance, he said, a cloud instance of SteelHead can be deployed in Akamai POPs, or points of presence, to improve the performance related to accessing online data.

"We can guarantee not only is the link optimized, but that it takes the fastest route to the cloud," he said.

Riverbed will be a part of cloud-based solutions with other partners including Box, NetSuite, SAP's SuccessFactors, Ariba and others in the near future, he said.

Mike Sargent, senior vice president and general manager of Riverbed's SteelCentral management and control business, said during his keynote presentation that the new SteelHead and SteelCentral AppResponse technology provides the visibility needed to help businesses better exploit their new hybrid networks and hybrid clouds.

Together, they provide comprehensive visibility in two ways, Sargent said.

The first is longitudinal visibility by following the applications to identify areas of delays and understand the cause of the delays. The second is latitudinal visibility by bringing together cross-data sets to provide end-to-end solutions, he said.

The next step will be predictive visibility which looks at cross-domain data to add automation for analytics by drawing on pattern recognition and providing self-correction and social media collaboration, Sargent said.

This can be done on-premises, but makes more sense to do in the cloud because everyone benefits from the experience of a wide range of users, Sargent said.

"Headlights from the experience of others, with automated remediation and social media collaboration: That's predictive visibility," he said.

NEXT: Solution Providers Say Riverbed's Vision Is Spot On

Solution providers applauded Riverbed for highlighting the issues related to the hybrid network and hybrid cloud, and said their customers' experiences closely mirrored many of the issues Riverbed discussed.

The hybrid enterprise is not coming, said Shane Carnahan, advanced technical consultant for Dimension Data, a Johannesburg, South Africa-based integrator and Riverbed channel partner.

"It's here," Carnahan told CRN. "Anyone who doesn't acknowledge it is behind the curve."

Customers are building on-premises private clouds and off-premises private clouds, and are using both private applications and shared applications like Office 365 and Salesforce.com in public clouds, Carnahan said.

"Riverbed is addressing all those different areas," he said.

Carnahan echoed the comments of Riverbed executives about the importance of visibility into hybrid networks and hybrid clouds.

"Visibility is the Holy Grail," he said. "Companies are telling us, give us end-to-end visibility. But if you look at the details, you still see holes."

Josh St. John, a consultant systems engineer at World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based integrator, told CRN that the Riverbed vision for hybrid networks and hybrid clouds is right for the commercial space, but may not yet be applicable to the federal government clients he works with.

The federal government is still in the process of making a case for the cloud, especially in more sensitive agencies like the Department of Defense, St. John said.

"Trying to convince these folks to allow classified systems to go on the cloud is a tough sell," he said.

However, St. John expects this to evolve over time.

"I see technologies like hybrid clouds getting adopted faster in the commercial space," he said. "The federal government is a little slower. But as it gets adopted by commercial users, we will see the government follow. But their focus will be on private clouds."

As more sensitive government departments implement private clouds, some of which will be isolated from public access, they could use the management platforms Riverbed is planning to offer, but will likely be slow to adopt them, St. John said.

"Riverbed has a lot of management capabilities that provide visibility into their infrastructures," he said. "But one of the biggest challenges in any federal agency is the question, 'Why should I buy another tool?' Riverbed makes a good enough case so we can answer the questions and have that conversation."