Autodesk University 2004: WOW! Technology

By Hal Reid

A company called Riverbed has a product line of network appliances that you should be aware of if you are in the business of generating large map, image or CAD files and need to move them to remote locations.

As we build better and more complex projects, the resultant files get larger and larger.This makes it difficult to share, and soon your network administrator begins to shuffle you to off hours, or buys you a DVD burner.A second issue is that the ability to backup and archive these large files sets gets more complicated.

Standard network protocols involve an accuracy check when sending a packet (typically 256 bits each).The receiving end sends it back to the originator for comparison and if it checks OK, the next one is sent.This turn around time is referred to a latency.While what you sent may get to where it is going quickly, the verification process at least doubles the time involved, and many times it makes it a lot longer.For small files, you may not notice this, but with large files the constant turn-around begins to multiply.

The Riverbed network appliance does several things.Placed at your router or the input to your WAN, it stores files, sets up a different handshake protocol and speeds up the process considerably.Of course, you need one at each end.

Watching them demo the movement of a 500MB file, the normal transit time was at best, a number of minutes.Using the appliances, it took only seconds.

If you have sent the file before, it remembers, and if there are no changes to the file, it just tells the other end that this is a repeat and it draws upon the local store for that information.So you get it at local network speeds (today, at least 10mps, probably at 100mbs and if your IT department is really cool at 1000mbs).If there have been changes, the appliance sends just the changes.This makes the throughput process very fast.

Part of the process is to reduce latency time through their improved protocols.This keeps handshaking time down, and the net movement of files is faster through a set of compression algorithms.

How much faster is it? Well, I saw at least a 70 time increase in speed with the 500MB image.They have a number of customer testimonial including CAD users, a library and a lumber company.In every case it is moving more data, faster, over the same bandwidth.

A key feature is that the appliances don't really care where they are located geographically.So international locations are not a problem.

If one of the appliances fails, it reverts to standard network protocols and the user is just aware that things are now not as fast.The installation time is typically 10 minutes after receiving a pre-setup device from Riverbed.Maintenance is minimal as the only moving parts are in the internal hard drive.Depending on the model, hard drive size varies from 40GB to half a Terrabyte.

Riverbed has succeeded in getting 10 pounds in a 5 pound bag.If you are bumping up against bandwidth problems with your WAN, or need to archive things to remote locations, you might want to check out Riverbed and their Steelhead set of appliances rather than buy more bandwidth.

Check out their web site at

Published Saturday, December 11th, 2004

Written by Hal Reid

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