The rapidly increasing number of mobile workers -- even those who spend as little as one or two days a month away from the office and working remotely -- puts a tremendous strain on even the most bandwidth-capable wide-area network (WAN) and network architecture.
Why? For the most part, it is because the majority of WAN optimization solutions are focused on handling centralized servers and applications rather than a swarm of remote applications and data. WAN appliances are also limited in the number of users and amount of traffic they can support. A saturation problem is most commonly solved with the addition of another appliance to handle the load and offer optimization redundancy.
Adding a second appliance may not be an option for a small business user, however, if it has little or no IT staff and a budget that is close to the bone in this economy. Some may even struggle with deploying an initial optimization appliance, because the capabilities and price far outweigh a small company's need and budget. The branch offices of major corporations may also struggle with adding a duplicate appliance, which is why software virtualization is so much in vogue among the larger and distributed corporate networks.
"The branch office is a latent pain point in the battle to streamline IT," said a Forester Research Q2 report on branch office technologies. "While the data center has likely reaped the benefits of power, cooling, physical space, and operating expense gains from the adoption of technologies such as virtualization, consolidation of storage and server infrastructure, and increased use of software as a service (SaaS), branch offices have largely been ignored."
Mobile and remote worker productivity challenge
With that in mind, Riverbed Technology has doubled the capacity of its Steelhead optimization appliance and this week announced a new release of its Steelhead Mobile Controller (SMC) that provides beefed up application-level latency optimization and lowers the entry point for small business and divisional users. Together, these improvements are said to provide a more robust environment for an increasing mobile workforce, which market researcher IDC estimates at 450 million.
"Where there used to be multiple data centers, there are now fewer data centers," said Joe Ghory, Riverbed product marketing manager, noting the trend toward centralization and reduced costs. "Optimizers can push acceleration, but for mobile workers, the realization is they are much further from resources than in a decentralized model."
The Steelhead Mobile Controller-Virtual Edition (SMC-VE) also supports application-layer Lotus Notes acceleration for mobile users, reportedly making Riverbed one of the first to provide this capability. The technology was developed in cooperation with IBM and is said to deliver performance gains of more than 18x. This latest capability builds upon last year's release of Lotus Notes application layer acceleration for remote offices.
SMC-VE is a virtual package deployed on the Riverbed Services Platform (RSP), a virtualized platform that resides on the host Steelhead appliance. A small bit of coding is also installed directly on each mobile laptop, giving a company access to all the benefits of Steelhead Mobile without the need to purchase additional hardware, Riverbed said. Companies can buy as few as 10 user licenses (down from a 30-license minimum), up to a maximum of 100, providing a lower entry point for small business users.
Leveraging user license agreements
Riverbed also doubled the total license capacity of its appliance-based SMC for larger enterprises, to a total of 4,000 licenses without the need for additional hardware, according to Ghory. Doubling the capacity was critical to addressing the changing needs of large organizations and their increasing mobile users. It wasn't really an issue of capacity, since the appliance really had the capability to handle the increased workload, but it did involve making some changes in the management and licensing details of the appliance, Ghory noted.
General availability of the SMC-VE and related enhancements is expected by early next week. Meanwhile, one early user of the virtualized optimization software is David's Bridal, a specialty retailer of bridal wear and accessories with more than 300 locations across the country. The company uses Riverbed's SMC-VE to accelerate its Lotus Notes application used by people outside the office for email and document sharing.
Paul Michael, a system administrator at David's Bridal, said in a statement: "The performance improvement was so dramatic [that] users could barely notice the difference between the road and office."