Riverbed thinks small for remote users

Riverbed thinks small for remote users

Riverbed Technology rolls out WAN products for small companies.

Telecommuters and employees in small branch offices can't very well do their work on the company LAN, but Riverbed Technology introduced products on Monday designed to give them the next best thing.

The San Francisco startup, founded in 2003, competes in the crowded market for products that make server-based applications run faster for users who access them over a WAN (wide-area network). Already selling a line of devices for larger offices, on Monday it was to roll out boxes for sites with 20 or fewer employees and no IT staff, according to Eric Wolford, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Riverbed. The Steelhead 100 and 200 appliances will ship Feb. 15 through Riverbed and its channel partners worldwide.

That was intriguing news to Ron Maxwell, IT manager at BJG. The engineering and architecture company keeps all its CAD (computer-aided design) documents in Reno and uses one of Riverbed's larger appliances in its Las Vegas office so employees there can easily work on them, Maxwell said. The company wants some employees to be able to work from home, so Maxwell plans to try out the Steelhead 100 along with the company's existing Cisco Systems VPN (virtual private network).

Riverbed's appliances are designed to tackle long-distance performance in two ways, according to Wolford. It combines WAFS (wide-area file services) techniques such as reducing the number of administrative messages exchanged by "chatty" protocols such as CIFS (Common Internet File System) with WAN optimization, which makes the most of limited bandwidth through methods such as compression. The result is that applications can run 10 to 20 times faster over the WAN than they otherwise would, he said.

The new WAN technology is helping enterprises consolidate their IT resources in a few data centers, which can help them cut costs and simplify management, according to Forrester Research analyst Robert Whiteley. Big rivals including Cisco and Juniper Networks are muscling in, but Riverbed is one startup that should be able to hold its own, Whiteley said. For one thing, it has an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) relationship with Hewlett-Packard. Riverbed is also ahead of the pack with devices for homes and the smallest offices, though others are likely to follow soon, he said. Pure software clients are coming, too, but they won't deliver the performance of hardware, he added.

The Steelhead 100 and 200 are identical in hardware but come with different software licenses. The 100 can support 25 simultaneous TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) connections, whereas the 200 can support 75. There is no limit on the number of users, but each employee typically uses three to five TCP/IP connections, Whiteley said. The Steelhead 100 has a starting list price of US$3,495 and the 200 starts at US$5,000.

Also Monday, Riverbed rolled out a new version of its central management console that will allow administrators to write configurations to be automatically downloaded by the appliances when they are plugged in, Wolford said.

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