Well known for its Steelhead WAN optimization and acceleration technologies, Riverbed also participates in the highly competitive market for Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs) with its Stingray product portfolio.
Riverbed entered the ADC market in 2011, basing its offerings on capabilities gained via the acquisitions of vendors Zeus and Aptimize. General Manager Jeff Pancottine leads Riverbed's ADC efforts. Pancottine, no stranger to the ADC world, worked for rival vendor F5 from 2000 until 2006. In an interview with Enterprise Networking Planet, he detailed his business unit's initiatives and challenges in the highly competitive ADC space.
Stingray Services Controller
One of Riverbed's upcoming products is the Stingray Services Controller.
"The Stingray Services Controller is a product that allows us to provide a capability to build ADC as a service," Pancottine explained.
The hardware-based delivery typical to ADCs today can prove cumbersome for network administrators looking to deliver capabilities with a real-time approach. Pancottine noted a demand for delivery of ADC as a service in the network, similar to the way that server admins can now easily spin up virtual machines.
The Stingray Services Controller can enable the licensing and metering of ADC services as well as management of individual ADC instances.
In order to enable ADC as service, Riverbed chose not to leverage the traditional virtualization hypervisor model, where individual virtual machines are be spun up to meet demand. Instead, the Stingray Services Controller will make use of Linux container technology.
"We can use virtual machines, but they take up a fair amount of memory and CPU resources, so instead what we use are containers," Pancottine said. "Containers are very lightweight constructs that have the same level of isolation as a virtual machine but don't use the same amount of resources."
Container technology is present in multiple Unix and Linux operating systems today. In Linux, LXC containers are widely deployed. Pancottine said that the Stingray Services Controller uses Linux containers that Riverbed has enhanced.
The ADC as a service approach will also be made available for multiple cloud platforms. Pancottine said that plugins will be available for VMware's vCloud Director, OpenStack, and CloudStack.
"There will be plugins that allow those cloud frameworks to control the ADC as a service," Pancottine said.
The Stingray Services Controller is currently set for general availability this month, with updates set to roll out on a quarterly update cycle.
The big vendor in the ADC market is F5, a company which employed Pancottine for nearly six years.
Pancottine noted that F5 started out as software running on commodity servers. Physical hardware from F5 didn't become available until 2001. F5 today offers its own portfolio of hardware-based ADCs as well as software-based solutions.
The Riverbed solution is software-only today, and that's just the way that Pancottine likes it.
"Intel is building more capabilities into server designs to do network processing," Pancottine said.
Intel, for example, announced its Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) in April of this year. DPDK enables content coming in over a network interface card to be placed in user memory for faster processing.
"The advantages of a proprietary hardware ADC are evaporating pretty quickly," Pancottine said.
Having worked at both F5 and Riverbed, Pancottine noted that while the two companies are rivals, they are similar in a number ways.
"I loved working at F5 and loved the culture at F5," Pancottine said. "The Riverbed culture reminds me of F5 in a big way. It's very focused on being successful and is a really good work environment."