Riverbed says it can boost data centre consolidation

Strategies for consolidating branch office storage in the data centre aren’t new, but they always seem to run into a roadblock.

WAN optimization specialist Riverbed Technology Inc. believes it has the answer in a technology it calls edge virtual server infrastructure, which it says can pull back to the data centre write-intensive data that organizations feel has to be left at branches. Now that data can be fed back to the edge.

“What VDI did for desktops, VSI is doing for edge servers,” says Miles Kelly, Riverbed’s senior director of product marketing. “Architecturally, for the first time you can decouple storage from compute.”

On Wednesday the company announced a new line of appliances it calls Granite which it says enables the approach and offers savings of up to 50 per cent over the cost of keeping or replicating data in branches.

Granite Core is a 2U-sized appliance, or it can be a virtual appliance, that mounts on iSCSI storage arrays. Granite Edge is an appliance installed at the branch that runs with an existing Riverbed Steelhead WAN acceleration appliance or as a service on one of the new EX line of Steelheads.

Kelly said Granite Core can do away with Windows filers, low-end storage arrays and application servers in branches by projecting data to the Edge appliance, which presents it to branch desktops as if it was stored locally.

The key is the way Granite sees data, he said. Traditionally, when an application calls for a file the blocks of data have to be sent sequentially. Granite sees files at the block level, so grabs blocks of data at a time.

“For the first time we’re bringing a level of file system awareness to the block level,” said Kelly.

Industry analysts are intrigued. “It’s a pretty unique product,” said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research.

WAN optimization can’t deal with write-intensive applications or virtual machines in branch offices, he said. But if they can be moved to the data centre, “you can move to a totally server-less office.”

Dave Russell, vice-president of research for storage technologies at Gartner, said in an email that Granite is “interesting, in that it can change the [IT] management paradigm. But more importantly it fundamentally changes where resources reside in the data centre, but without necessarily sacrificing performance or scale.”

Still, Kerravala pointed out, it’s a new technology. “We’ll see if it works as advertised,” he said. “It’s a solution that’s got to prove it works before it gets adopted.”

Riverbed [Nasadq: RVBD] gave a few examples of how beta customers used Granite. A large media and entertainment firm worried about copyright infringement on its products offered on servers in foreign countries pulled the data back to the U.S.; an international construction company that stored CAD files on-site for engineers was able to bring them back to its data centre; and an advertising agency that was spending a lot of money backing up data at branches was able to do it for less at its data centre.

Granite has been tested with storage systems from EMC Inc., NetApp and EquaLogic, Riverbed said.

Kelly said enterprises will be able to get started with Granite for less than US$12,000.

The company also said it is splitting its WAN optimization line into two:

–Steelhead CX appliances offer only WAN optimization. The new models offer more capacity and throughput than the previous XX50 models;

–The EX line includes a virtualization hypervisor from VMware Inc. for running virtual services. Only EX appliances can run the virtual version of Granite. All models in this line use solid-state hard drives.

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