Making Apps Viable and Remote Users Productive

by Ashutosh Desai    Oct 23, 2009

What kind of application areas can mobile WAN optimization be installed in?
Consider an oil rig. Satellite communications will make some applications unusable. Applications like Outlook do not work over satellite delays because they will not synchronise. Applications areas for mobile WAN optimisation even extends to moving vehicles — whether it is the UPS or Federal Express or a taxi cab. You can access information from your laptop as though you were in office, no matter where you are. Earlier there were a lot of applications you could not use, but now you can. This greatly improves productivity. It does not matter if the connection medium is 3G or Wi-Fi. A user will be able to derive the same capabilities no matter where he is.

It is a perfect solution for a remote office where you have just two or three people. It can very useful for suppliers as well. Take Boeing as an example. There are many suppliers that supply them aircraft designs, components, etc. They need to access their corporate facility but they are off-site, smaller and do not have high speed lines. Mobile WAN optimisation will give the same performance as if they are at those sites. There are many applications, like design applications or CAD/CAM, that just would not work remotely at Boeing. But now these can be used remotely.

Take Citibank as another example, which uses NetApp SnapGear for replication. From 23 hour backups, which is very common (because I have worked in banks), we changed it to three hours — because of WAN acceleration.

The idea is to give the same response time as if the user were in the company premises. This way they can actually be more productive and applications will actually work over such links. The ability to deploy WAN optimisation to a laptop no matter where you are, is exceptional.

Is Riverbed’s mobile WAN optimisation solution affordable?
The pricing for that is the application itself, which gives you the same type of capabilities. There is a client version that is installed on the remote user’s laptop. This is free to install on a PC. But there is a cost element, which is a device called the Steelhead Mobile Controller (SMC). The object of a physical Steelhead Mobile Controller — placed at the datacenter-side or application server-side — was merely to authorise the device. The pricing is based on concurrent usage, which is a great business model but it still requires a physical device. We recently introduced a virtual edition of that. No more physical devices are actually required. You can have a virtual instance running on an existing Steelhead mobile device because all of our devices are VMware capable. It takes up one of those VMware slots and its extremely cost effective.

If you are at a remote site and you cannot afford or it does not justify to buy an appliance, you can actually use the ‘mobile application’ (Riverbed Steelhead Mobile Controller - Virtual Edition) in place of the physical appliance (Steelhead Mobile Controller). That is much more cost effective because you are not buying a hardware device, you are just putting some software on to the existing platform.

Will mobile WAN optimisation find takers in India?
We think that the availability of something this cost effective definitely applies to places like India. If a company is very cost-sensitive, very small, is a supplier, or wants to use corporate applications remotely, this is a much more effective solution.

Support or consulting organisations have to work off-site with their customers — a lot of that happens in India. They need access to great amount of information to help their customers. The Steelhead mobile product gives the ability to have them to access information off-site just as though they were at their own office, on a low speed line (depending on the customer’s facility).

It does not matter what the application is because of the opportunities it gives. If you look at the revenue from Riverbed, no vertical represents more than ten percent of our revenue. This means that WAN optimisation works in pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, financing, CAD/CAM — it does not matter what the vertical is.

How scalable is the virtual edition of your mobile WAN optimisation solution?
We are the only vendor that can say we have more than 1,000 sites on any given customer. Boeing is one our customers, including for Steelhead mobile, with thousands of devices. This supports our claim that the mobile controller can now handle up to 4,000 simultaneous connections. These can also be cascaded together to have as many as you desire. It has the ability to not only go high-end and scalable but also cater to small businesses that could be as small as one. Most people are able to be only scalable, we can also do just one. This is what we uniquely do, using the existing infrastructure.

Does an organisation have to add or change its existing infrastructure before deploying mobile WAN optimisation?
There is no additional thing that you need to buy other than the controller itself — and now we have the virtual controller. In essence, the virtual edition is exactly a replica of the software that is put on our hardware appliance. It does the same thing in exactly the same way. Now every Steelhead appliance we ship, allows people to turn on a 90-day free trial license. It lets our customers to try mobile WAN optimisation and see if this application is viable and gives them new capabilities. It is definitely meant for small environments here in India but it also expands your capabilities.

How is the issue of maintaining a secure connection handled?
Most laptop users use SSL or VPN as their medium of secure communication. Riverbed supports both, including the numerous vendors out there for VPN. There are a lot of details behind this process and how it makes it secure. In a nutshell, the secure portion is decrypted, optimised, then re-encrypted again, and sent forward. This process is not CPU intensive at all.

Do you perceive any challenges in India for the adoption of mobile WAN optimisation?
We are estimating that 20 percent of business will actually become mobile business. Riverbed did about 350 million dollars last year, targeted close to half a billion this year — 20 percent of that is a significant change. This means people are opting for it. Earlier mobile WAN optimisation was not an option. When it becomes an option, we see a huge uptake. The adoption rate will be very quick when people know that this solution is now available.
We are making it more available by shipping the mobile controller virtual edition as a 90-day free trial version on our Steelhead appliances. That is an incentive in itself for people to try it — it does not cost them anything to try it out. They will realise how much more productive they will be after testing it for free. That is why we think that the adoption rate will be a lot quicker because we are not charging them to try it.

Is there a learning curve involved for IT staff or the laptop user?
If a Riverbed appliance has already been installed, there is nothing additional an IT professional needs to learn. There is no learning curve involved in learning the mobile controller because the terminology and configurations is consistent with what we already have.
In terms of updating the client-side software on the laptop/PC, it is done automatically using Microsoft’s package installer (MSI). There is no licensing or keys involved in this either.

Are there any additional charges apart from the virtual edition?
There is a one-time purchase for the controller that does concurrent licenses — not for the software that is installed on the PC. If you want incremental updates for the software you will need to have a maintenance agreement, which is an annual charge. This is similar to everyone in the industry. The maintenance agreement is a nominal charge and it provides the latest releases, which gives you new capabilities whenever they are made available. For example, prior to this new release we did not support Lotus Notes. Now we do. If there is no maintenance agreement, everything would have continued to work all right but the user would not receive this latest capability.

Does it work for mobile devices other than laptops?
Riverbed only supports laptops because they have the memory and storage space that is required, which is not yet available on handheld devices like PDAs.

What if your customer’s network is poorly designed to begin with?
The more latency in the network, the better the application works. Let me cite another example to support this statement. We are on every U.S. and Korean navy ship in the world. One of the reasons for that is because there is a lot of latency because of satellite communications — with half a second delays to go back and forth. That is the worst you could possibly have. An admiral in the U.S. navy wanted to test if Microsoft Outlook was a viable application to use, for about 3-4 people. (There are about 5,000 people on a ship.) It took 36 hours to transfer a big file and it is very possible to see something like this because there is a half a second delay for every single packet that is sent back and forth. When Riverbed’s WAN optimisation solution was installed, without learning anything, at the very first shot the download time went from 36 hours to 3 minutes. It seems unbelievable, we get that all the time. But actually a lot of that is mathematics. It takes that delay away, by changing the outstanding frames, how many can be acknowledged, change the frame size to be more adaptive for efficiency, etc. What was not a possible application became a viable application.