Stellar Steelhead WAN accelerator reduces network wait time
Riverbed adds Proxy File Service, Microsoft SQL performance enhancementFollow @infoworld
If you're tired of having your remote users complain about the WAN's performance, it may be time to check out a WAN optimization/acceleration solution. Up until a few years ago, the only way to try to improve poor WAN performance was to throw more bandwidth at it, but that didn't solve the problem -- or make users any happier. The length of the link (latency) is a big factor in performance shortcomings, as is application chattiness and TCP slowdowns when a packet error occurs.
One of the more comprehensive appliances aimed at overcoming the WAN performance problem is Riverbed Technology's latest release, the Steelhead 3010. It's a 3U rack-mount appliance that includes 250GB of disk cache (in RAID), dual redundant power supplies, 10/100/1000 NICs, and an easy-to-navigate Web-based UI.
Now in Version 2.1.2, this latest software release includes new features such as a proxy file service for disconnected access and specific optimization for Microsoft SQL.
True plug and play
Basic installation of the Steelhead solution requires a unit installed at the datacenter and one at each remote office. Setup is as easy as plugging in and connecting each appliance to your network.
As opposed to some WAN optimization appliances, Steelhead requires no special connections or tunnels among boxes; as long as traffic passes through each device, from remote to datacenter, it is automatically classified and optimized. This allows the Steelheads to easily participate in a many-to-many, fully meshed network with redundant and alternate paths.
The last time I had a chance to check out Steelhead, I was blown away by how effective it was at improving poorly performing WAN links and applications. This time, I did another series of performance tests using a Shunra Virtual Enterprise to simulate various WAN circuits and found that last year's test results were no fluke. Steelhead was at its best when the link had high latency and the application was especially chatty, such as during a Windows file copy.
Protocol alphabet soup
Steelhead still focuses on CIFS, MAPI, HTTP, and TCP-based traffic, but now adds specific support for MAPI pre-fetching, MS SQL, and additional optimization for Exchange 2003. Microsoft made some changes to how Outlook 2003 and Exchange 2003 talk to each other, so in addition to the MAPI services already in the product, Riverbed added support specifically for Exchange 2003 to make sure all traffic is optimized. Steelhead will speed up all TCP traffic but does not help out UDP (User Datagram Protocol) traffic.
One feature I really like is the MAPI Transparent Prepopulation. This service will keep open a user's Outlook-to-Exchange connection between the remote Steelhead and the Exchange server, even if the user shuts down his or her PC. With this open connection, it will retrieve any new messages from the user's Exchange mailbox and store them in the Steelhead's cache. When the user next logs on and launches Outlook, the new mail is already staged close to the user and doesn't have to traverse the WAN, which improves response time and reduces load on the WAN.
The Microsoft SQL support allows admins to define the SQL servers for which Steelhead will intercept and optimize traffic. Steelhead can pre-fetch records from the SQL database during a retrieve operation, getting the next set of records and caching them before they are requested. This works with any MS SQL-based application, including MS Project, and really speeds things up.
Choose your mode