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Riverbed, Akamai Partner On WAN Optimization For Clouds

Akamai will install Riverbed's Steelhead appliances into its points of presence, while Riverbed will integrate Akamai's routing and caching smarts into its enterprise data center appliances.

Riverbed and Akamai plan to team up to fully integrate the Akamai network with Riverbed WAN optimization products. In a partnership announced Tuesday at Interop 2011 in Las Vegas, a UBM TechWeb event, Akamai will install Riverbed's Steelhead appliances into its points of presence (POPs) so that enterprise customers will be able to apply Riverbed WAN optimization to any cloud service--even one from a service provider that isn't a Riverbed or Akamai customer.

"We want to make the Internet look and behave like your private network," said Neil Cohen, senior director of product marketing at Akamai, in an interview. "So we're aiming to extend the footprint of the Akamai network into the enterprise data center." To that end, Riverbed also will integrate Akamai's routing and caching smarts into enterprise Steelhead data center appliances by the end of 2011. Riverbed hasn't said how this will be achieved, but the most likely option is by using the VMware environment already included in Riverbed appliances. This means that it will likely require the hardware version of Steelhead on the enterprise side, not the virtual appliance or mobile clients.

Though the vendors also won't say exactly how the integrated products and services will be sold, the symmetric nature of Riverbed technology means it's likely that enterprises will need to buy both Riverbed hardware and an Akamai service, in addition to whatever cloud services they are accessing.

The Akamai network will route traffic between the enterprises data centers and whichever Akamai POP is closest to the cloud service provider, while Riverbed boxes in the data center and the Akamai POP will apply the same data reduction and protocol optimization techniques that Riverbed already uses in its Steelhead line. An obvious possibility is that Akamai will eventually offer a subset of the Riverbed functionality as a service for enterprises hosting their own applications, similar to the service that new Riverbed competitor Aryaka also announced on Tuesday, though for now they are focused only on cloud applications.

Riverbed already offers a cloud service of its own, but this requires that Riverbed technology be used by the cloud service provider itself, so it's limited to only a few cloud providers that have partnered with Riverbed. Putting the technology in an Akamai POP avoids the need for such a partnership, though it also means that optimization only goes as far as the POP, not all the way to the service provider.

"We will be able to optimize any SaaS application from the start," Apurva Dave, VP of product marketing at Riverbed, said in an interview. "But we'll also develop additional Layer 7 optimizations, which could apply to a particular application." This is similar to what Riverbed and its competitors like BlueCoat and SilverPeak already do for enterprise applications, cutting out much of the bloat in popular file formats.

For both companies, the partnership helps them broaden their portfolio, letting Akamai move beyond its traditional product line and Riverbed beyond its traditional customer base. Though Akamai is best known for caching and Internet bypass, this now accounts for a minority of its business. "Close to 60% of our revenue is attributed to value-added services," said Akamai's Cohen. "And these are very different from our traditional acceleration service."

Riverbed's push into cloud computing is part of its plan to expand the market for WAN optimization. "It's a greenfield market," said Yoav Eilat, director of product marketing at Riverbed. "Even when you consider all our customers and all our competitors' customers, most enterprises still aren't using it."

Whereas most existing customers of WAN optimization are very large enterprises needing to link multiple data centers together, cloud services could make WAN optimization attractive to smaller businesses with just a single data center. This also is the strategy behind Riverbed's acquisition of CASE, the packet capture company whose founders wrote the popular Wireshark tool and whose technology was last month integrated into Riverbed's existing management product. The long-term plan is to make a version of WIreshark a feature on the Steelhead itself.

Akamai already has a cloud acceleration partnership with IBM, focused both on optimizing the network path for Websphere applications and on treating IBM's DataPower appliances as equivalent to nodes in the Akamai network--a philosophy very similar to what Akamai is doing with Riverbed.

However, both Akamai and Riverbed deny that there's any competition between the two. "We embrace the idea that Akamai has these other partnerships, " said Riverbed's Dave. "We don't see IBM as a competitor." Akamai's Cohen agreed, saying that the two are complementary. This is true in the sense that they use different techniques for application acceleration--Riverbed's is essentially compression and caching, DataPower's is implementing common protocols and functions in hardware--but their common integration of Akamai technology could bring them into greater conflict.

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