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Riverbed Steelhead 7050 uses solid-state drives to boost WAN performance

Riverbed incorporates solid state drives into its new SteelHead 7050 WAN optimization appliance, as well as a new approach to data protection to speed performance for data replication and high-end disaster recovery.

Riverbed Technology Inc. launched the Steelhead 7050 this week, a new appliance that uses solid-state drives (SSDs) and a new approach to data protection to improve WAN optimization and offer large customers a more consolidated hardware platform.

One of the use cases Riverbed envisions for the new appliances is data replication between data centers for disaster recovery.

The Steelhead 7050 is now at the high end of Riverbed's Steelhead product line, and will be available in two models: the 7050-L and the 7050-M. Each offers 1 Gbps WAN capacity, but the 7050-L can support up to 75,000 TCP/IP connections, while the 7050-M can support up to 100,000 connections. The 7050-L holds 14 solid-state drives for a total usable capacity of 2.2 TB, while the 7050-M holds 28 SSDs with 4.4 usable TB capacity. Both models use traditional hard drives as "logging" disks, but store persistent data on the SSDs.

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Riverbed's Steelhead appliances use on-board storage to cache data that has passed through the device on its way to the other end of the WAN. Until the 7050, these disks were conventional hard disk drives. By using solid-state drives, Riverbed claims the 7050 offers three times the throughput of the next-biggest Steelhead, the 6050. The 6050 also maxed out at 5,000 TCP/IP connections. The new models also have new CPUs, 32 GB of memory for the 7050-L, and 48 GB of memory for the 7050-M.

In addition to the faster hardware, Riverbed has changed its scheme for protecting data on disk in the Steelhead 7050 from a traditional RAID scheme to what it calls the Fault Tolerant Datastore. This stripes data across all the disks in the array, which Riverbed claims improves performance for sequential writes to SSDs and allows an appliance to withstand multiple SSD failures.

"What we're doing is transactional – when data is in arrays, if you lose a storage spindle you have to be able to get the data back," said Nik Rouda, Riverbed director of product marketing. "In our case, we can carry on and re-calculate [what should be sent across the WAN] at high throughput rather than trying to do a recovery."

These hardware updates are meant to go along with enhancements Riverbed made to its RiOS operating system in RiOS 6, released in October. That release allowed replication processing for disaster recovery or data backup in the same Steelhead device used for application acceleration, a first for Riverbed. Rouda said Riverbed is looking to take the combination of the Steelhead 7050 and RiOS 6.0 into larger organizations and for deployment in data center-to-data center replication use cases where it also hasn't typically competed.

Multiple Steelhead devices can be stacked and load-balanced using Riverbed's Interceptor appliance, but the underlying devices still have to be managed separately. Beefier individual boxes will cut down on how many devices are needed in larger environments, Rouda said.

"This is one area where they may have had a gap in their portfolio before," Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Bob Laliberte said. "This makes Riverbed a serious player in the data center-to-data center replication space." Riverbed competitor Silver Peak has long targeted this market.

Riverbed also said it is now officially qualified with major enterprise data replication products from 3PAR Inc., Brocade Communications Systems Inc, CommVault, Compellent Technologies Inc., Dell EqualLogic Corp., Double-Take Inc., EMC Corp. (SRDF/A), Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. LeftHand Networks, IBM Corp., Isilon Systems, Microsoft Corp., NetApp Inc., Symantec Corp., and VMware Inc.

Phil Go, CIO for construction firm Barton Malow, uses Riverbed SteelHead 6050s to distribute files to remote offices on the West coast from the company's main data center in Michigan. He said the company is currently looking to put together a new DR plan with replication to a secondary data center, and is considering the SteelHead 7050 for that. "It has to scale big time to keep up with replication, and offer more WAN capacity," Go said.

The Steelhead 7050-L and 7050-M will become available this quarter. The list prices are $180,000 for the 7050-L and $234,000 for the 7050-M.

"The only concern that might exist for Riverbed with this is, is this enough bandwidth for the lunatic fringe?" Laliberte said. The 7050 can handle a big pipe – Laliberte estimated an OC48, "but I know a couple of customers using OC192s already. Today there aren't very many shops like that, but data keeps on growing."


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