Riverbed acquires Zeus and Aptimize

(This is part of a series of “catch-up” posts of announcements that I’ve wanted to comment on but didn’t previously find time to blog about.)

Riverbed made two interesting acquisitions recently, which I think signal a clear intention to be more than just a traditional WAN optimization controller (WOC) vendor — Zeus, and Aptimize. If you’re an investment banker or a networking vendor, who has talked to me over the last year, you know that these two companies have been right at the top of my “who I think should get bought” list; these are both great pick-ups for Riverbed.

Zeus has been around for quite some time now, but a lot of people have never heard of them. They’re a small company in the UK. Those of you who have been following infrastructure for the Web since the 1990s might remember them as the guys who developed the highest-performance webserver — if a vendor did SPECweb benchmarks for its hardware back then, they generally used Zeus for the software. It was a great service provider product, too, especially for shared Web hosting — it had tons of useful sandboxing and throttling features that were light-years ahead of anyone else back then. But despite the fact that the tech was fantastic, Zeus was never really commercially successful with their webserver software, and eventually they turned their underlying tech to building application delivery controller (ADC) software instead.

Today, Zeus sells a high-performance, software-based ADC, with a nice set of features, including the ability to act as a proxy cache. It’s a common choice for high-end load-balancing when cloud IaaS customers need to be able to deploy a virtual appliance running on a VM, rather than dropping in a box. It’s also the underlying ADC for a variety of cloud IaaS providers, including Joyent and Rackspace (which means it’ll also get an integration interface to OpenStack). Notably, over the last two years, we’ve seen Zeus supplanting or supplementing F5 Networks in historically strong F5 service provider accounts.

Aptimize, by contrast, is a relatively new start-up. It’s a market leader in front-end optimization (FEO), sometimes also called Web performance optimization (WPO) or Web content optimization (WCO). FEO is the hot new thing in acceleration — it’s been the big market innovation in the last two years. While previous acceleration approaches have focused upon network and protocol optimization, or on edge caching, FEO optimizes the pages themselves — the HTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), JavaScript, and so forth that goes into them. It basically takes whatever the webserver output is and attempts to automatically apply the kinds of best practices that Steve Souders has espoused in his books.

Aptimize makes a software-based FEO solution which can be deployed in a variety of ways, including as a virtual appliance running on a VM. (FEO is generally a computationally expensive thing, though, since it involves lots of text parsing, so it’s not unusual to see it run on a standalone server.)

So, what Riverbed has basically bought itself is the ability to offer a complete optimization solution — WOC, ADC, and FEO — plus the intellectual property portfolio to potentially eventually combine the techniques from all three families of products into an integrated product suite. (Note that Riverbed is fairly cloud-friendly already with its Virtual Steelhead.)

I think this also illustrates the vital importance of “beyond the box” thinking. Networking hardware has traditionally been just that — specialized appliances with custom hardware that can do something to traffic, really really fast. But off-the-shelf servers have gotten so powerful that they can now generate the kind of processing umph and network throughput that you used to have to build custom hardware logic to achieve. That’s leading us to the rise of networking vendors who make software appliances instead, because it’s a heck of a lot easier and cheaper to launch a software company than a hardware company (probably something like a 3:1 ratio in funding needed), you can have product to market and iterate much more quickly, and you can integrate more easily with other products.

ObPlug for new, related research notes (Gartner clients only):

Posted on August 8, 2011, in Infrastructure and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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