Riverbed offers peek at WAFS for cloud storage with virtual Steelhead appliance

Riverbed Technology previewed its cloud storage acceleration strategy Tuesday, including a virtual Steelhead appliance and plans to accelerate iSCSI cloud storage over the WAN.

Riverbed Technology Inc. is going after the cloud storage market with a software-based Steelhead WAFS appliance along with the ability to run block storage over the wide-area network (WAN).

These products won't be available until next year, but Riverbed previewed them Tuesday night at a webcast in New York City.

Virtual Steelhead for the cloud runs Riverbed software on a virtual appliance that customers could send to a cloud computing service such as Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). They could then point servers accessing files from the corporate data center or remote offices at the virtual Steelhead appliance to optimize data transfer in and out of the back-end cloud storage repository. The software can run on any server, but must be deployed as a virtual machine for customers to upload it to a cloud platform.

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"We believe cloud computing does have a place in the long run, but data transfer bottlenecks and performance are two of the top barriers to adoption," Riverbed senior vice president of marketing and business performance Eric Wolford told SearchStorage.com before the launch event.

Wolford said although the products Riverbed is pre-announcing aren't ready to ship, "we want to be designed in and influence the cloud computing architecture. Now is the right time to be involved in these dialogues."

He added that Riverbed will sell the virtual appliance to customers to set up on EC2 or a similar service, as well as to service providers who can optimize data transfer for customers. Multiple virtual appliances can be clustered for scale-out capacity management. Wolford wouldn't say when in 2010 the product is expected.

While on-premise deployments of Steelhead typically have the hardware appliance intercepting traffic between the network switch and router in the data path, Wolford said there's also an out-of-path intercept available for Steelhead and the virtual version uses that. For use with a cloud service, customers would still need a virtual Steelhead or a hardware Steelhead at their end of the wire. The virtual appliance can be used for that, but Wolford said organizations would probably prefer a Steelhead device.

Riverbed is also working on a technology that runs iSCSI storage over the WAN. Instead of sitting between server and client and optimizing file-based traffic, this new software will reside between the server and remote back-end iSCSI block storage, such as cloud storage from a service provider or centralized data center storage being connected to remote offices. This acceleration technology is planned to ship after virtual Steelhead for the cloud.

Wolford said the idea will be "to put disk anywhere and make it feel local" by using Riverbed's TCP/IP optimization techniques, including traffic queuing. "We can leverage insights from our application integration on the WAFS side to bridge file system and block-level protocols," Wolford said. "iSCSI is inefficient in many of the same ways."

This software could also be used as a standard protocol interface into object-based cloud storage that requires API integration.

Jeff Boles, senior analyst and director, validation services at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group, said Riverbed could solve a major barrier to enterprise adoption of cloud computing if it can deliver what it's promising. "Data movement has been massively overlooked in cloud computing discussions so far," he said. "As we go forward, technologies like Riverbed will be instrumental in helping the cloud concept grow."

The last time Riverbed previewed a product, it was its Atlas primary storage data deduplication device. Riverbed said last year that Atlas would be available in 2009, but pushed it back to 2010 following beta testing.

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