December 1, 2012 Previous day Next day

Where is my cloud?

Posted by Filip Verloy Dec 1, 2012

Pixies anyone?


When you use applications on your PC at work in most cases (depending on when you read this) the server component of those applications will be sitting inside your company’s datacenter. A small but growing number of users don’t get all applications from inside their own datacenters but use externally hosted ones in the public cloud. Those applications are delivered as a service across the Internet to your PC, hence Software as a Service or SaaS.


The difference of course being that your IT department tightly controls what happens inside your datacenter and that it is likely to be very close to you as the user of the application, if not, your IT department can alleviate the distance problem (latency makes applications slow) by using WAN optimization.


Recently Google published a video that gives a peek inside one of their datacenters.



Notice something about those servers? They don’t belong to your company do they? And I’m betting you don’t live near that particular datacenter either.


So not having any say about what is installed at the Google datacenter and having lot’s of distance (latency) between your PC and the server powering your application can be a performance nightmare. Latency makes or breaks a SaaS application.

Microsoft also has this rather nice video about their cloud services, it even starts by asking “where is the Microsoft Cloud?”



Obsessed with performance Riverbed has figured out how to accelerate these SaaS applications so you don’t kill the productivity of the average business user who has to use the application every day.



Riverbed, in partnership with Akamai, is delivering SaaS acceleration via our Steelhead Cloud Accelerator (CSA) solution.

We use the Akamai network to find an Akamai server as close as possible to the datacenter powering your SaaS application and spin up a Cloud Steelhead system to provide symmetrical WAN acceleration.



Since you need to traverse the Internet when finding your way to the datacenter hosting your SaaS application there is a good possibility of not having the most efficient route from your PC to the server powering your app. Hence we also use Akamai SureRoute which triplicates the first packet going out to the datacenter and then chooses the path with the fastest round trip response so you not only have a steelhead very close to the datacenter, you now also have the fastest path across the Internet.


The video below shows the actual results of using this technology at Interop 2012 in New York.



So how do you go about enabling this technology? For my next post I’ll walk you through it step by step.

Riverbed has recently released version 2 of the EX platform software, this includes RiOS 8 and Virtual Services Platform v2. VSPv2 runs VMware ESXi 5 as it’s hypervisor layer and as such can be managed by VMware vCenter.


In this post I’ll first cover how to install EX 2 on your existing Riverbed Steelheads and then we’ll look at managing the hypervisor with VMware vCenter.


First thing you need is the new EX 2 firmware which can be downloaded from our support website.



Install the new firmware just like any regular update and reboot the appliance.



After the appliance has rebooted you will notice a new menu option under Configure, called Virtualization. Here you can install the VSP platform and also migrate any legacy VSPv1 packages you have installed.



Before you install ESXi, it is recommended you select the disk layout you need, this will allocate the internal disks on your Steelhead EX platform to your required setup (i.e. will you use the appliance only for Granite, only for VSP, or for a mix of both) by going to the Virtual Services Platform page.



After you have made your selection you can go ahead and launch the ESXi installation wizard.



As you can see the ESXi installation wizard uses a familiar colour scheme to VMware engineers.



The Wizard is pretty self explanatory.
Start by giving ESXi a management IP, this can be placed on either or both our Primary and AUX interface.



Enter the ESXi credentials in order to manage ESXi using vCenter. (or standalone).



If you want you can enter VNC credentials so you can have access to the ESXi console.



After verifying your settings click next to install and configure ESXi.



After the installation has finished you can manage the VSP platform by going to Configure, Virtualization, Virtual Services Platform.



Here you can see the resources currently allocated to the vSphere hypervisor, notice that at the moment we allocate 1 socket (with 2 cores – on the EX760 appliance) to the hypervisor, this is important for VMware licensing, should you choose to do so, if not you can keep running the free version (called embedded license) of the hypervisor by managing each EX appliance separately.



Connect to your vCenter server using the vSphere Client (or Webclient) and add the Steelhead appliance (using the ESXi management address) to vCenter.



At this point you can choose to add a license.


If you change the license, this is reflected on the management console (web interface) of the Steelhead appliance.



After adding the Steelhead appliance to vCenter you can manage it like any other vSphere server.



So there you have it, Steelhead EX version 2, managed by VMware vCenter 5.1.
Happy consolidating!

Riverbed has a joint SaaS optimization solution with Akamai called Steelhead Cloud Accelerator. In this blog post I will show you how to use this technology to accelerate your salesforce (people and the application).

The picture below is a diagram of the lab environment I’ll be using for this setup.



The lab uses a WAN Simulator so we can simulate a cross-atlantic link towards For this simulation I have set the link to 200ms latency and 512Kbps.



For the Steelhead Cloud Functionality you need a specific firmware image, available to our customers on,  you can recognize this by the -sca at the end of the version number (right hand corner in the screenshot below).



Once you are using the firmware you get an additional option under Configure –> Optimization, called Cloud Accelerator. (see screenshot above).


Here you can register the Steelhead in our cloud portal (which is running as a public cloud service itself, running on Amazon Web Services). You can also enable one or more of our currently supported SaaS applications (Google Apps,, and Office 365).



When you register the appliance on the Riverbed Cloud Portal you need to grant the appliance cloud service to enable it.



Once the appliance is granted service, the status on the Steelhead itself will change to “service ready”



So let’s first look at the unoptimized version of our SaaS application. As you can see in the screenshot below I have disabled the Steelhead optimization service so all connections towards will be pass-through. You can also see the latency is 214ms on average and the bandwidth is 512Kbps.



I logged into and am attempting to download a 24MB PowerPoint presentation, as you can see in the screenshot below this is estimated to take about 7 minutes to complete. Time for another nice unproductive cup of coffee…



If we now enable the optimization service on the Steelhead it will automatically detect that we are connecting to and in conjunction with Akamai spin up a cloud Steelhead on the closest Akamai Edge Server next to the datacenter I am currently using.


Looking at the current connections on the Steelhead you can see that my connections to are now being symmetrically optimized by the Steelhead in the Lab and the Cloud Steelhead on the Akamai-ES.



Note the little lightning bolt in the notes section signifying that Cloud Acceleration is on.


Let’s attempt to download the presentation again.



Yeah, I think you could call that faster…


But that is not all, because we are using the same proven Steelhead technology including byte-level deduplication I can edit the PowerPoint file and upload it back to with a minimum of data transfer across the cloud.



I edited the first slide by changing the title and subtitle and will upload the changed file to my SaaS application, notice that the filename itself is also changed.



Looking at the current connections on the Steelhead you can see I am uploading the file at the same breakneck speed since I only need to transfer the changed bytes.




So there you have it, at lightning speeds!


NOTE: I have not mentioned the SSL based configuration needed to allow us to optimize https based SaaS applications (as all of them are), I will cover this in a later post.

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