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Welcome to Briefings In Brief, an audio digest of IT news and information from the Packet Pushers, including vendor briefings, industry research, and commentary.
I’m Ethan Banks, it’s December 1, 2018, and here’s what’s on my mind.
I’ve had a few briefings with Riverbed in the last month or two. You can watch some of those on YouTube by searching for Riverbed SD-WAN and Tech Field Day. You probably know Riverbed as that WAN optimization company that bought CACE Technologies a few years back bringing WireShark under Riverbed’s care.
SD-WAN Is Crucial To Riverbed
The most critical thing happening at Riverbed these days is SD-WAN. Here’s why. The SD-WAN market is exploding with products. Consolidation is beginning to happen as major players Cisco and VMware have made SD-WAN acquisitions and begun preaching about the glory of SD-WAN to their customers…and that’s a lot of customers.
Many of those WAN customers might well be Riverbed customers, too–Riverbed’s install base of WAN optimization appliances is huge. But the need for WAN optimization, by itself, isn’t a strong enough play anymore. People might or might not need WAN op, but as applications increasingly transition to encrypted HTTP, WAN op isn’t providing the gain it once did. That’s not to say it doesn’t matter, but organizations have to evaluate WAN optimization’s usefulness to them based on their individual application mix.
So when Cisco comes knocking on my door telling me I can install IOSXE-SDWAN on my ISR routers and get the Viptela product, that’s pretty interesting. Sure, there’s no WAN optimization there, but maybe I make the switch and have one less supplier to deal with. Why keep Riverbed around?
Then again, maybe I don’t make the switch. Riverbed has been a little slow with their SD-WAN strategy, but it’s far from too late. SD-WAN adoption in the enterprises where Riverbed has been making their money for so many years has been slow, too. And I think that’s going to work out well for Riverbed. Because now, I think their SD-WAN story has shaped up reasonably. This could keep Riverbed customers in the fold.
Two New Riverbed SD-WAN Products
If I’m interested in SD-WAN and I am running Riverbed SteelHeads, I now have an in-place upgrade option, plus some lower cost device options for sites where maybe I hadn’t deployed SteelHeads before. There are 2 appliances Riverbed has announced, adding to the SteelConnect products they launched a couple of years ago.
The first new appliance is the SteelHead SD. Riverbed bills SteelHead SD as a full-featured SD-WAN product, with VPN, cloud connectivity, OSPF and BGP routing, active/active high availability pairs managed as a single unit, path steering, and a business intent driven policy engine, as well as retaining the WAN optimization capabilities that Riverbed customers are likely familiar with.
Again, just because WAN optimization isn’t as important as it once was doesn’t mean it’s no longer important at all. For example, Silver Peak claims that a pretty large percentage of their SD-WAN customers will license Boost, their WAN optimization module, for some or all of their SD-WAN fabrics. I’m sure that will be true with Riverbed SD-WAN customers as well.
SteelHead SD is available as a software upgrade for many existing Riverbed appliances, so a lot of folks can get these features with a minimum of operational disturbance. And in fact, Riverbed has that exact scenario in mind with SteelHead SD. They are aiming this product at brownfield deployments where the routing requirements might be complex and the WAN circuits might be a hybrid of private MPLS and public Internet. Riverbed knows from their work with customers that bolting SD-WAN onto an existing WAN fabric doesn’t happen overnight, and SteelHead SD is designed to make the transition as painless as possible.
In one presentation, Riverbed presented the complex routing scenarios that come up when running parallel WANs and then adding an mix of overlay and underlay traffic. Reminds me of my CCIE days working on whatever evil mutual route redistribution scenarios the sadistic practice lab writer had come up with. The SteelHead SD has the routing features available and Riverbed has the architectures to make sure you get this right as your legacy WAN and shiny new SD-WAN inevitably co-exist.
The second appliance is the SteelConnect SDI. This device is designed for simpler environments, probably greenfield, and comes in at a lower price point than a SteelHead SD. SteelConnect SDI boxes are fully interoperable with SteelHead SD boxes, and can be centrally managed as a part of the SD-WAN fabric. But, the feature set is less. The WAN circuits can be Internet only. There’s no WAN optimization. The routing capabilities aren’t as strong.
I see SteelHead SD appliances as head-end devices and probably good fits at major remote offices. I see SteelConnect SDI appliances at smaller remote offices with simpler needs, where the LAN is simple, maybe even completely flat.
If You’re A Riverbed Customer…
This all makes a great deal of sense if you’re an existing Riverbed customer. While I’m not saying that you should obviously choose this SD-WAN solution, I am saying you’d be silly not to give it a very serious look. If it does what you need and the price is right, you could save yourself some operational heartburn. So, sure–include SteelHead SD and SteelConnect SDI in your SD-WAN bakeoffs. Riverbed is not going to waste your time.
If You’re Not A Riverbed Customer…
But what if you’re not a Riverbed customer? Do you look at their SD-WAN solution? This is a harder question to answer. I think the technology is finally there to put them on par with Cisco Viptela, Silver Peak, and VMware VeloCloud. But each of these solutions have slightly different management interfaces, form factors, nerd knobs, cloud integrations, pricing models and use cases.
Let me put it another way. We’re talking about Riverbed here. These folks know packet monitoring and manipulation. They built their company on it. My gut instinct is that this latest release of appliances means they have finally applied their core competencies effectively to SD-WAN. Therefore, I wouldn’t rule them out.
On the other hand, if you don’t have Riverbed in house already, you’re looking at sticking new boxes out there. If you can displace WAN routers and simplify your edge, maybe that’s not so bad. In any case, watch out for the solution pricing and support costs. Do that ROI calculation carefully.
To Dig In More
Riverbed has an SD-WAN landing page for you at riverbed.com/sdwan. Go forth and sip some Kool-Aid. You know it’s tasty.
That was Briefings in Brief from the Packet Pushers. For more IT podcasts, blogs and news created for engineers, visit packetpushers.net where you can subscribe for free. And support the Packet Pushers directly by becoming a member at ignition.packetpushers.net.