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AI World Conference & Expo · Boston, MA · December 11-13, 2017

Posts Tagged ‘Riverbed’

Over the years, a number of companies have become synonymous with certain technology markets. These are companies that have been the primary evangelists for a market and are typically the technology and/or share leaders. Examples of this are F5 with Application Delivery Controllers and Aruba Networks in wireless LAN. In the WAN optimization, Riverbed is that vendor. The company has had its way with WAN optimization for over a decade now, has over 50% market share and has been a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for WAN optimization for seven years running now.

However, while being a de facto standard has many advantages, it often makes it a challenge to move into adjacent markets. Blue Coat is a great example of a company that become known as a great security specialist, but struggled to establish itself in the WAN optimization market. This has been Riverbed’s struggle over the past few years. The company has acquired companies like Mazu, Opnet and, my favorite, Zeus, to move into new markets, but has struggled to grow its share in these areas.

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As an industry analyst, I get briefed on many, many new products, most of which are positioned to me as “transformative” and “game-changing.” The majority of the products, though, are frankly pretty lame, and the startup fades away after just a few years. However, every once in a while a vendor comes along with a product that makes me sit up and take notice because it solves a significant problem and creates a whole new market.

This was the case with Riverbed. Way in back in 2002, I remember Riverbed executive Eric Wolford (who recently left) came to see me at Yankee Group with PR person Kim Kapustka to show me a new product that can optimize WAN links. Going into the meeting, I was somewhat skeptical and was expecting something akin to another QoS device, for which there were many already on the market. Instead, Eric walked me through how the company actually accelerated the traffic and gave LAN-like performance to WAN-based applications, such as Windows and email. Riverbed created the WAN optimization market, and the company and market took off like a rocket. Before one of you out there posts a comment that states someone like Actona actually created the market because they were first, which might be true, Riverbed was the biggest, loudest vendor in the space and now stands as the market leader in the WAN optimization market.

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Earlier this week, WAN optimization leader Riverbed announced an upgrade to RiOS, the operating system that powers its Steelhead appliances. This particular release, version 8.5, had some particularly unique features that I felt expanded the use of WAN Optimization appliances.

Historically, WAN optimization products have been used to improve the performance over private networks by accelerating traffic over specific links by accelerating traffic. This made it ideal for optimizing the performance of email, Windows, CAD, and other applications that caused enterprise network managers headaches. From the many interviews I’ve done with Riverbed customers, it’s clear that once network managers get a taste of an optimized WAN, they want more. In fact, one network engineer I talked to described Riverbed as “network crack,” meaning the more he got, the more he wanted.

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If you remember the old Austin Powers movies, Mini-Me was a full replica of Dr. Evil in every way. Just as evil, just as cunning, and just as powerful. Today, Riverbed announced a “mini-me” version of its Stingray application delivery controller (ADC). Stingray came into Riverbed through the acquisition of Zeus so, in a way, Riverbed’s latest product is Mini-Zeus.

In the Austin Powers movies, Mini-Me really didn’t seem to have much of a purpose other than to laugh evilly and scream once in a while. That certainly isn’t the case with the mini-ADC, or Stingray Services Controller, as the product opens up new markets for ADCs.

Historically, hardware-based ADCs have been deployed on a “per-application” basis. Rolling out a new application? Buy a new ADC. Migrating to a new hardware platform? Buy a new ADC. Customers would sometimes repurpose older hardware, but given how fast hardware evolves, this was more the exception than the norm. Lately, the hardware platforms have evolved to where a single ADC could be shared and support multiple applications, but this still doesn’t give a true one-to-one ratio of ADCs per application.

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On Monday, October 29th (Hurricane Sandy day!), Riverbed announced its intention to purchase one of the APM market leaders, Opnet, for a shade under a billion dollars ($43/share), which represents about a 30% premium over OPNET’s current market cap. To finance the deal, Riverbed will use some debt being financed by Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. OPNET will do a shade under $200 million this year, which, when combined with Riverbed’s expected $834, will push Riverbed over the billion-dollar revenue mark for the first time in its history.

This should be a great acquisition for Riverbed as the Opnet products will nicely complement the products in the company’s Cascade business unit. Riverbed jumped into the network management market after it acquired Mazu Networks in 2009 and CACE Technologies in 2010. The two combined gave Riverbed both a macro-level view (Mazu) of the network with the ability to drill down with micro-level analysis (CACE). However, as strong as the product was, its sweet spot was mid-market and below.

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Earlier this year, Riverbed released a product known as the “Granite Edge Virtual Server Infrastructure (VSI)” to optimize the performance of many of the applications that it’s core product, Steelhead, does not. 

For those not familiar with the differences between Steelhead and Granite, the traditional Steelhead product optimizes the performance of file-based applications, such as Word and Exchange, through a number of acceleration technologies such as compression and TCP optimization.  Granite addresses block level applications such as database and virtual machines. 

While the continued growth of Steelhead demonstrated that there were a number of “killer apps” for it, the killer application for Granite was not obvious, since there aren’t that many block storage based applications run in the data center. 

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