Riverbed Technology is adding a virtual appliance to its Steelhead line of WAN optimisation hardware, aimed at providing greater flexibility in datacentres but also with an eye to specialist environments where equipment may need to be moved regularly.
Due to be available from the end of August, the Virtual Steelhead runs on VMware vSphere infrastructure but has exactly the same Riverbed Optimisation System as the firm's physical Steelhead appliances.
A virtual appliance is easier to deploy and reconfigure inside a large datacentre, according to Christian Lorentz, Riverbed's product marketing manager for EMEA.
"Some of our customers are moving towards a fully virtualised infrastructure, so it makes more sense for them than fitting a physical appliance," he explained.
However, the virtual model is unlikely to entirely replace its physical counterparts just yet. Lorentz expects branch offices to continue to use a hardware appliance for their end of the WAN connection.
The Virtual Steelhead also does not currently scale to the same level of throughput and number of concurrent connections as Riverbed's high-end appliances.
Another potential market for the virtual appliance is in specialist environments, such as outside broadcast vehicles, aircraft or ocean-going vessels, where the virtual appliance can be run from a ruggedised PC.
"Customers in the construction industry move around a lot. There is the problem of vibration, and space is at a premium," said Lorentz.
The Virtual Steelhead starts at a throughput level of just 1Mbit/s, supporting up to 30 optimised IP connections, and scales up to 45Mbit/s and 6,000 connections.
However, scaling up also requires more resources. The entry-level Steelhead calls for one virtual CPU and 1GB Ram, while maximum throughput requires four virtual CPUs and 6GB Ram.
With a starting price of $2,895 (£1,875), the Virtual Steelhead is not far off the price of a physical appliance at $3,495 (£2,263), a fact that Riverbed concedes.
However, Lorentz said that the value for customers is in the optimisation of WAN traffic that each Steelhead delivers, and that potential buyers should make their choice based on the form factor that best suits their requirements.
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