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Riverbed SD-WAN design goes beyond optimization

The Riverbed SD-WAN strategy blends optimization, orchestration, management and other services in a single platform, called SteelConnect.

Riverbed Technology has introduced a line of software-defined WAN, or SD-WAN, products designed to extend optimization and software-defined services governing application control, management, throughput and other capabilities throughout a company's WAN infrastructure.

SteelConnect, offered today through Riverbed's early-access program and slated for commercial availability this fall, incorporates a beefed-up SteelHead operating system, gateway appliances, switches, access points (APs) and a management console.

Taken together, the Riverbed SD-WAN package lets users rely on orchestration to provision cloud connections, WAN optimization, orchestration, security, dynamic bandwidth allocation and other services throughout a user's WAN, remote LAN and wireless network.

New approach for SD-WAN

It's a distinctive approach that could set Riverbed SD-WAN apart from its competitors, said IDC analyst Brad Casemore. Where other SD-WAN approaches bring software-defined networking to the edge of the network, SteelConnect extends those capabilities throughout a user's branch offices.

They are trying to use this as a platform to manage IT within the branch; it's not just bringing all of these software-defined capabilities to the edge, but beyond that.
Brad Casemoreanalyst at IDC

"They are trying to use this as a platform to manage IT within the branch; it's not just bringing all of these software-defined capabilities to the edge, but beyond that," he said.

Riverbed's legacy WAN optimization foundation becomes a secondary component in the SteelCentral platform, Casemore said.

"It's still an integral element, but it's no longer the whole story; with companies moving more of their applications to the cloud, it goes well beyond the areas WAN optimization is capable of addressing. You also need intelligent path selection, priority, [quality of service] and other features that will let companies manage cloud-based apps like Skype that need special treatment," he said.

To that end, SteelConnect redefines hybrid WAN, said Joshua Dobie, senior director of product marketing at Riverbed, based in San Francisco. "It's not just about managing 'Internet-plus-MPLS' links at remote sites. [Riverbed SD-WAN] is about ubiquitous and unified connectivity," he said, adding that the framework manages not only how sites connect to the WAN, but determines how users and their devices connect to the remote LAN itself.

Riverbed SD-WAN cuts arcane CLI across components

By automating how the network is configured, SteelConnect eliminates the need to rely on "arcane" command-line interfaces, or CLI, to code individual network devices to determine how traffic travels through the WAN and into branch locations, Dobie said.

The SteelConnect gateway features a built-in next-generation firewall and unified threat protection. And in future versions available later this year, SteelConnect will support a variety of routing protocols, including Open Shortest Path First and the Border Gateway Protocol. Later this year, Riverbed will add its network visibility and application performance apps to SteelConnect Manager, and it will also add support for third-party applications, giving users access to a diverse array of services.

The new switches and APs, meantime, will give Riverbed some additional ammunition as it courts customers ready to upgrade their branch sites with hardware that consolidates functions now spread across myriad devices, IDC's Casemore said.

"They are going to be selling the entire package and see how much of a spend they can attract; it's a competitive market, and they are leaning on their visibility and optimization heritage," he said.

Offering hardware, software and services in a unified package will enable Riverbed to separate itself from other companies angling for a piece of the SD-WAN pie. More importantly, it may also help it compete more aggressively with Cisco, which has its own software-defined strategy.

The market is poised for rapid growth. Although only a tiny percentage of enterprises now rely on software-defined components as part of their SD-WAN today, IDC projects the market will hit the $6 billion mark by 2020.

The Riverbed SD-WAN platform has been under development for months. Earlier this year, it purchased Ocedo, a German company that developed the switches, APs and other technologies partially underpinning SteelConnect.

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