On the hardware side, the new Steelhead 5520 appliance is three times larger than earlier Steelhead appliances, with up to 15,000 TCP/IP connections versus a pervious maximum of 4,500 connections and 1.5 terabyte (TB) raw disk capacity. The new Steelhead 6020 includes 3.2 TB raw disk capacity. With the hardware update, Steelhead appliances can now support up to 4 Gbps throughput in a cluster and up to 310 Mbps from a single device.
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McCulloch said his company had downgraded to the Steelhead 2000 series because it was built on Dell Inc. hardware that the company felt was of better quality.
"Their lower tier stuff was actually better," McCulloch said. "But it limited our actual Riverbed deployment."
The new midsized and high-end systems are all based on one or two of the latest generation 64-bit Applied Micor Devices Inc. (AMD) Opteron dual-core series of CPUs, the company said. It added that the disks are all 250 GB RAID edition SATA drives.
Neither Hewlett-Packard nor Dell manufacture the systems, Riverbed said.
Interceptor 9020 -- the new big box
Riverbed also introduced Interceptor 9020, the first box in its Interceptor product line. The $50,000 box, a Layer 4 switch that also includes connection forwarding for asymmetric routing, sits in front of Steelhead appliances and allows up to one million TCP/IP connections and 4 GB of aggregate WAN throughput, which is said to provide load balancing and failover for large customer environments.
Riverbed said that approximately 35 big enterprises have already beta tested the Interceptor.
"We have a couple of projects that are using over 100 Steelheads alone," said one user from a large company in the financial industry who asked not to be named. "We've been looking for a box like this for three years -- and we've been working with Riverbed on it for about a year and a half."
The key appeal to the Interceptor is the asymmetric routing feature, according to the user. With other network-optimisation products, any traffic that flows out through one particular link has to flow back the same way, the user said, and so the appliance at the branch office has to straddle both outbound and inbound links -- a tall order on a large network.
"It's like the old days of CB radio where only one person can talk at a time," the user said. "Most network-optimisation appliances have trouble with this -- you almost have to engineer a big network without redundancy to account for this."
NFS and new software
"We've been waiting on this," McCulloch said, of the new NFS support. According to him, several of the vacation resorts his company owns connect using NFS between locations. "That's been limiting our Riverbed deployment."
"Now, instead of focusing primarily on CIFS/Windows, Riverbed, like other WAFS/WADS, vendors, including Cisco and Packeteer Inc./Tacit Networks Inc., are able to pursue traditional NFS environments as well," said Greg Schulz, analyst with the StorageIO Group based in Stillwater, Minn.
GUI updates are a given with any major new software release, but in this case, users said WAN traffic reporting upgrades to Riverbed's Central Management Console (CMC) will make their lives easier.
"Maybe once a month we get a 'data storm,' " said Ray Sirois, IT manager for engineering firm Wright-Pierce, located in Topsham, Maine. These clogs in bandwidth often turn out after lengthy investigation to be something like a big print job tying up the network, or even employees streaming MP3s at their workstations.
"It's very frustrating not to be able to put a finger on it right away," Sirois said. Previously, his WAN monitoring software from a company called Solar Winds would say that the biggest IP traffic driver on the network was the Steelhead appliance. "You couldn't get more granular than that," according to Sirois -- because Solar Winds couldn't penetrate the Steelhead, and because the Steelhead appliance wasn't compatible with NetFlow, a Cisco Systems Inc. protocol that can be analysed by cheap third-party software.
Now, RiOS is compatible with NetFlow collectors, "which has little to do with managing the Steelheads themselves but everything to do with managing my WAN," Sirois said,
He said he doesn't mind that the NetFlow analysis isn't native to the Steelhead appliance. "Most people with a WAN already have a NetFlow analyser anyway," Sirois said. And if they don't, he said, such software can be as cheap as $700 for enough licenses to monitor five Steelheads.
The new GUI also provides trending, traffic breakdown and performance report emailing, even on traffic not optimised by the Riverbed appliances. Appliances can now automatically map ports to applications, report on performance by quality of service class. CMC v3.0 also now includes Steelhead appliance image hosting and network-link health analysis.