A computer networking company at the University of Illinois Research Park is helping enterprises meet the challenges and embrace the opportunities created by new technologies and cloud services in a changing marketplace.
Riverbed Technology was born in 2002 as a company called Next Big Thing in San Francisco. It was renamed in 2004 to reflect former CTO Steve McCanne’s hobby of fly fishing, as was its WAN Optimization product line SteelHead, a reference to a species of trout. The company’s first product was shipped in 2004. Riverbed is a portfolio company of private equity group Thoma Bravo. Toma Bravo acquired Riverbed in 2014.
Riverbed has had its local site since 2005, officially opening in 2006. It started in Urbana and moved to the Research Park in 2008, beginning as a software quality assurance group and then expanding to have a software development team. There are 18 engineers on site and another half dozen who are affiliated with the site.
Riverbed engages with the university in not only recruiting but through leveraging events like the Reflections | Projections tech conference and the annual Big Data Summit, according to Director of SW QA Engineering Dwain Dixson. “We have access to a great engineering college and talent,” he said.
Riverbed offers wide area network (WANs) management, including SD-WAN (software-defined wide area networking) and WAN optimization (WAN-op) to improve the speed with which government and global corporate enterprise customers can access and transfer data and applications, getting them back valuable work time. “Riverbed is both a deep and wide network infrastructure technology company,” Dixson said. “It’s everything, from network configuration and management, to network optimization, all the way down to application and end user experience monitoring.”
The company’s network performance monitoring and application performance management products give customers tools to investigate and debug performance problems to maintain an expected level of service. “The classic case is someone reports, ‘My network is slow, the Riverbed portfolio of products allow you to understand why’” Dixson said. “Improving network performance is what we’re looking to assist other companies in doing.”
The Steelhead product line will help in a typical case in which someone in a local office needs something in a corporate data center by optimizing the connection between the two. “There are various means of optimizing the traffic,” Dixson said.
Ninety-eight percent of Riverbed’s customers are the Fortune 100 companies and 100 percent of the Forbes Global 100. Some of those include corporations in the banking industry, architectural firms and utilities like gas and electric companies. “Our customers are larger business enterprises,” Dixson said.
Riverbed works with everything from corporate data centers hosting internal applications to a large scale number of branch offices, to popular publicly hosted SaaS apps such as O365, Salesforce and Box.
“One of the changes we’ve seen over the last five years is migration to cloud services,” Dixson said. Microsoft Office 365 products, for example, are accessed and stored in a cloud environment. “You’re no longer hosting it with a local server, in a corporate data center” Dixson said. “That can be good.”
Because Office 365 is provided on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted by Microsoft, it’s considered Software as a Service (SaaS). Dixson said by first taking stock of and then analyzing and prioritizing all of a company’s user-to-SaaS connections, Riverbed can accelerate the performance of such applications and services by eight times. “If you can have that, why wouldn’t you?” Dixson said.
“We understand where trends are going from a cloud perspective,” Dixson said. “We’re going to build on the ability of our platforms to enhance that.”
Riverbed, which has 30 different sites globally, works with companies operating in a variety of environments, including end-users operating from homes, coffee shops, airports and customer sites. One customer, Boral, a construction company based in Australia, for instance, had staff in rural field locations who needed to get information back to its data centers. Riverbed was able to provide better connectivity in the field by optimizing the traffic to transfer the data more efficiently and also providing better network performance visibility.
A typical scenario would be for Riverbed solution engineers to go in and discuss with a corporation’s chief information officer what its network issues are and how Riverbed’s various portfolio items can address them. An investigation may be done on what is actually happening on the network. “Investigations can take months,” Dixson said. “You have to understand who your end user is because each customer is different.”
Dixson said Riverbed’s ability to provide not just a single item for optimizing networks sets it apart from similar companies. “We’ve been doing WAN optimization since we started,” he said. “For network management, we’ve definitely set a higher bar.”
While transitioning a WAN or SD-WAN, it’s possible to minimize disruption by making the network available with a high-availability network system design that will be switched over automatically, Dixson said.
Another consideration is the cost, according to Dixson. “The cloud is just renting someone else’s hardware,” he said, adding that although that eliminates the cost of keeping the hardware cooled and powered. “Depending on the size, using cloud resources can get quite expensive.” “The Riverbed portfolio of products can assist customers in all of these types of environments, be they private datacenters, publicly cloud hosted services or a hybrid of public and private networks.”