Consolidation, Riverbed-Style


Virtualization and consolidation are taking over the data center at a rapid pace, leading to a scramble among vendors to position themselves for the new environment. But while it's easy to focus on the machinations of the VMwares and Microsofts, Ciscos and Brocades, some of the lesser-known firms are laying out some innovative new strategies of their own.


One of these is Riverbed. The company has made a name for itself with the Steelhead WAN optimization appliance, essentially kick-starting a networking sub-industry in the process. The company is now well on the way toward leveraging its technology across a new set of functions with the idea that data optimization and increased I/O throughput is at the heart of server and storage consolidation, not to mention outright network centralization.


Part of this strategy involves bring a virtualization layer onto the optimization platform. To that end, the company recently signed a deal with VMware to embed its virtualization solution within the Riverbed Services Platform, the software that runs the Steelhead appliance. The union allows customers to maintain as many as five remote office virtual servers from a single Steelhead, eliminating the need for dedicated branch servers at each site.


But even while it is bringing virtualization out to the WAN, Riverbed itself is looking to integrate itself deeper in the data center. The company recently announced that it will deploy the same data deduplication technology found on the Steelhead into the new Atlas appliance aimed at consolidating primary storage systems. The company says it will be able to eliminate up to 95 percent of redundant data with the Atlas, and then make the remaining single copies available throughout distributed networks using the Steelhead platform.


A key question in the Atlas strategy is how it will affect the entrenched storage providers like NetApp and EMC, according to Barron's Eric Savitz. While the idea is to improve existing storage systems, not replace them, early reports that some alpha customers are seeing upwards of 1,000 percent capacity increases lead some to suspect that the technology could do to storage vendors what virtualization has done to server vendors.


Another question is whether any form of deduplication will allow a busy environment like primary storage to function properly. As we highlighted earlier, locating and relocating deduped files, or entire volumes, will eat up compute cycles needed by high-priority processes, possibly lowering the productivity level of the entire organization.


It's hard to imagine that Riverbed and NetApp, which also is touting dedupe for primary storage, would push the technology unless they were pleased with the results so far. The key for both companies is making sure performance is maintained as their systems become more pervasive in the data center.