(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 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):
- Riverbed Reports 2Q11 Results, and Acquires Zeus and Aptimize: My colleague Frank Marsala presents an Invest Insight for institutional investors, on Riverbed’s recent announcements.
- How to Accelerate Internet Websites and Applications: My latest note, on how to combine network-based and front-end optimization techniques, looking at CDNs, ADCs, FEO, and more.