rube napkin

Say No to Rube Goldberg

rube goldberg colorI remember when my parents took me to the Franklin Institute of Science, where I was astounded by the museum’s wild and weird Rube Goldberg-like contraption. I’d shoot away at that pool ball, watching it roll through a maze of tubes and conduits, spinning wheels and gears, all just see it pour a cup of water or what have you.

But while Rube Goldberg machines may make for great entertainment, they have no place in today’s data centers. Old networks were made up of masses of hardware, but today’s generation of data centers are leaner, built on virtualized appliances and off-the-shelf server hardware.

A Lean, Mean WAN Optimization Machine

Yet, some WAN optimization vendors don’t seem to quite get that message. Riverbed, for example, recently made a product announcement consisting of many new — and seemingly overlapping — hardware appliances, but not a single new virtual appliance. Given the fact that the virtual Steelheads only support 45 Mbps and just 6000 connections, far too small for many data centers, you’d think upgrading its virtual solutions would be at the top of Riverbed’s “new product introduction” list. Apparently that wasn’t the case.

Similarly, Riverbed’s design flaws force customers to adopt additional hardware. A number of customers, for example, have told us how the Steelhead 7050 will drop or black-hole packets as the number of tunnels approach the 7050’s  limit. To avoid this problem, Riverbed tries to front-end the appliance with an Interceptor, its proprietary load balancer. The Interceptor acts as a gatekeeper, detecting if the Steelhead is swamped and then refraining from directing traffic to the device.

This echoes similar complaints I’ve heard from at least one Riverbed partner who told me how even smaller Steelhead appliances fail in load conditions. In this case, the customer had to optimize just 4 Mbps of traffic of a 10Mbps connection and so they deployed a 4 Mbps Steelhead. However, the additional 6 Mbps of pass-through traffic was so great that the appliance became CPU-bound and started dropping packets.

Less is More

At Silver Peak, we think today’s IT managers should reduce – not increase– the hardware on their networks. This is a big reason why we’ve embraced virtualization on standard server architectures. Our VRX-8 is the industry’s highest capacity virtual WAN optimizer. It is the only virtual solution capable of supporting 1 Gbps of WAN capacity and 256,000 IP connections, which is 20x the WAN capacity of Riverbed’s virtual Steelheads and 2.5x the flows of Riverbed’s largest hardware appliance, the 7050.

This is also why Silver Peak appliances reach such high capacity levels. You’ll need more than two Steelheads and an Interceptor to meet the capacity of our NX-10K, the industry’s most scalable WAN optimizer. The NX-10K optimizes up to 2.5 Gbps WAN capacity across 512,000 IP connections. And, rest assured, our appliances can continue to optimize to their full capacity even when the total amount of traffic traversing the appliance approaches line rate.

You know, I really did like that contraption in the museum, but pushing more hardware to compensate for one’s own design limitations isn’t the way to go. Vendors should fix their hardware flaws, go virtual, and most of all, leave Rube Goldberg out of today’s data center.