Riverbed's Granite Speeds up WAN Storage to Drive Consolidation

Riverbed Technology plans to make enterprise data centers look like local storage at branch offices with Granite, a new accelerator technology the company is announcing on Wednesday.

Granite is designed to carry out block data transfers across WANs (wide-area networks) without the many back-and-forth exchanges that make such movements time-consuming now. Granite can essentially achieve the same thing with blocks of data that Riverbed's Steelhead appliance does with applications, slashing wait times at branches and letting enterprises centralize their storage, executives said at a press event earlier this week in San Francisco.

Granite will play a major role in a plan by international law firm Paul Hastings to go from 16 data centers to four, said Searl Tate, the firm's director of network engineering, who spoke at the event. Paul Hastings has been working with the product since the alpha testing stage. "The story of consolidation is compelling," Tate said.

In addition to moving large files around the world at LAN speed, Granite will let remote users boot up virtual desktops over long distances, a process that often takes 30 minutes or more and in some cases is not even possible, said Eric Wolford, executive vice president and general manager of the company's products group.

The technology is set to ship by the end of March and will be available both as a standalone appliance and as software on a Steelhead appliance. Granite is a major initiative for the company, "the next Riverbed inside Riverbed," Wolford said. Riverbed made its name with WAN application acceleration that helped enterprises centralize their servers in many cases, and Granite will address some additional situations, he said.

When servers have to remain at the remote site to run certain applications, Granite allows IT departments to at least house the data centrally. Retrieving it to the Riverbed appliance for local use is quick thanks to the new technology, according to Riverbed.

"This is going to help project whatever disk is in the data center out to the edge, so that the edge can think the disk is actually local," Wolford said.

When a server needs to retrieve data from a storage array, where it usually resides in many different blocks, typically the server requests the bits from each block in sequence. Over a WAN, that process can take a long time because messages and data need to travel over a long distance. Using its awareness of the file system, Granite allows the remote server to retrieve all the required blocks of data in one round-trip transaction, Wolford said.

By eliminating "chatty" transactions that are delayed by the latency of distance, Granite allows enterprises to take advantage of the speed of current available WAN connections, which are now available at multiple gigabits per second.

In a demonstration, Riverbed showed 200MB of files being copied to a remote server from a data center in a few seconds, and booting up a remote system from a Windows 2008 OS stored in the data center in about 40 seconds.

Granite initially will use iSCSI for block storage transfers across the WAN, but the company plans later to add Fibre Channel capability. It can bring that data to servers using Microsoft NTFS (New Technology File System), with Linux EXT (Extended File System) coming later. Enterprises will be able to get started with Granite for less than $12,000, according to Senior Product Marketing Manager Miles Kelly.

Granite can be used for centralizing resources in three key cases that Riverbed's other products were unable to address, Wolford said: custom applications, write-intensive applications, and the need to keep working at the remote site if disconnected from the data center.

"There are still a lot of enterprises that have a lot of infrastructure at their remote sites," said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Bob Laliberte. That creates IT headaches because of the need to back up data at those sites, which raises security issues, and to devote IT staff time to managing those sites, he said. If non-IT staff manage all the technology at a remote office, it's harder to maintain proper procedures, he added. In addition, storage and other resources at remote sites also are usually not highly utilized.

"All those things start adding up, so the more they can bring back, the more they can consolidate, the more they can take advantage of those economies of scale back in the data center," Laliberte said.

At Paul Hastings, consolidation over the next three to five years should cut down on big spending for storage gear at the company's 20 offices, according to Tate. "It would really be nice to leverage our SAN resources and those assets just in the hub locations, and kind of get off that train," he said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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