Companies with significant non-data center and often widely distributed IT infrastructure requirements are faced with many challenges. It can be difficult enough to manage tens or hundreds if not thousands of remote or branch office locations, but many of these can also be located in dirty or dangerous environments that are simply not suited for standard data center infrastructure. It is also hard if not impossible to forward deploy the necessary IT experience to manage any locally placed resources. The key challenge then, and one that can be competitively differentiating on cost alone, is to simplify branch IT as much as possible while supporting branch business.
Converged solutions have become widely popular in the data center, particularly in virtualized environments. By tightly integrating multiple functionalities into one package, there are fewer separate moving parts for IT to manage while at the same time optimizing capabilities based on tightly intimately integrating components. IT becomes more efficient and in many ways gains more control over the whole environment. In addition to obviously increasing IT simplicity there are many other cascading benefits. The converged infrastructure can perform better, is more resilient and available, and offers better security than separately assembled silos of components. And a big benefit is a drastically lowered TCO.
Yet for a number of reasons, data center convergence approaches haven’t translated as usefully to beneficial convergence in the branch. No matter how tightly integrated a “branch in a box” is, if it’s just an assemblage of the usual storage, server, and networking silo components it will still suffer from traditional branch infrastructure challenges – second-class performance, low reliability, high OPEX, and difficult to protect and recover. Branches have unique needs and data center infrastructure, converged or otherwise, isn’t designed to meet those needs. This is where Riverbed has pioneered a truly innovative converged infrastructure designed explicitly for the branch which provides simplified deployment and provisioning, resiliency in the face of network issues, improved protection and recovery from the central data center, optimization and acceleration for remote performance, and a greatly lowered OPEX.
In this paper we will review Riverbed’s SteelFusion (formerly known as Granite) branch converged infrastructure solution, and see how it marries together multiple technical advances including WAN optimization, stateless compute, and “projected” datacenter storage to solve those branch challenges and bring the benefits of convergence out to branch IT. We’ll see how SteelFusion is not only fulfilling the promise of a converged “branch” infrastructure that supports distributed IT, but also accelerates the business based on it.
The branch office has long been a critical dilemma for the IT organization. Branch offices for many organizations are a critical point of productivity and revenue generation, yet the branch has always come with a tremendous amount of operational overhead and risk. Worse yet, challenges are often exacerbated because the branch office too often looks like a carryover of outdated IT practices.
More often than not, the branch office is still a highly manual, human-effort-driven administration exercise. Physical equipment too often sits at a remote physical office, and requires significant human management and intervention for activities like data protection and recovery, or replacement of failed hardware. Given the remote nature of the branch office, such human intervention often comes with significant overhead in the form of telephone support, less than efficient over-the-wire system configuration, equipment build and ship processes, or even significant travel to remote locations. Moreover, in an attempt to avoid issues, the branch office is often over-provisioned with equipment in order to reduce the impact of outages, or is designed in such a way as to be too dependent on across the Wide Area Network (WAN) services that impair user productivity and simply exchange the risk of equipment failure for the risk of WAN outage. But while such practices come with significant operational cost, there’s a subtler cost lurking below the surface – any branch office outage is enmeshed in data consequences. Data protection may be a slower process for the branch office, subjecting the branch to greater risks with equipment failure or disaster, and restoring branch office data and productivity after a disaster can be a long slow process compared to the capabilities of the modern datacenter.
When branch offices are a key part of a business, these practices that are routinely accepted as the standard can make the branch office one of the costliest and riskiest areas of the IT infrastructure. Worse yet, for many enterprises, the branch office has only increased its importance over time, and may generate more revenue and require more responsive and available IT systems than ever before. The branch office clearly requires better agility and efficiency than it receives today.
Riverbed Technologies has long proven their mettle in helping enterprises optimize and better enable connectivity and data sharing for distributed work teams. Over the past decade, Riverbed has come to dominate the market for WAN optimization technologies that compress data and optimize the connection between branch or remote offices and the datacenter. But Riverbed rose to this position of dominance because their SteelHead appliances do far more than just optimize a connection – Riverbed’s dominance of this market sprung from deep collaboration and interaction optimization of CIFS/SMB and other protocols by way of intelligent interception and caching of the right data to make the remote experience feel like a local experience. Moreover, Riverbed SteelHead could do this while making that remote connection effectively stateless, and eliminating the need to protect or manage data in the branch office.
Almost two years ago, Riverbed announced a continuing evolution of their “location independent computing” focus with the introduction of their SteelFusion family of solutions. The vision behind SteelFusion was a focus on delivering far more performance and capability in branch offices, while doing away with the complexity of multiple component parts and scattered data. SteelFusion does this by transforming the branch office into a stateless “projection” of data, applications, and VMs stored in the datacenter. Moreover, SteelFusion does this with a converged solution that combines storage, networking, and compute all in one device – the first comprehensive converged infrastructure solution purpose-built for the branch. This converged offering though, is built on branch office “statelessness” that, as we’ll review, transparently stores data in the datacenter, and allows the business to configure, change, protect, and manage the branch office with enterprise tools, while eradicating the risk associated with traditional branch office infrastructure.
SteelFusion today does this by virtualizing VMware ESXi VMs on a stateless appliance that in essence “projects” data from the datacenter to a remote location, while maintaining localized speed of access and resilient availability that can tolerate even severe network outages. Three innovative technology components that make up Riverbed’s SteelFusion allow it to host virtual machines that access their primary data via the datacenter, from where it is cached on the SteelFusion appliance while maintaining a highly efficient but near synchronous connection back to the datacenter storage. In turn, SteelFusion makes it possible to run many local applications in a rich, complex branch office while requiring no other servers or devices. Riverbed promises that SteelFusion’s architecture can tolerate outages, but synchronize data so effectively that it will operate as a stateless appliance, enabling branch data to be completely protected by datacenter synchronization and backup, with more up to date protection and faster recovery regardless of whether there’s a loss of a single file, or the loss of an entire system. In short, this is a promise to comprehensively revolutionize the practice of branch office IT.
In January of 2014, Taneja Group took a deeper look at what Riverbed is doing with SteelFusion. While we’ve provided other written assessments on the use case and value of Riverbed SteelFusion, we also wanted to take a hands-on look at how the technology works, and whether in real world use it really delivers management effort reductions, availability improvements, and increased IT capabilities along with consequent improvements in the risks around branch office IT. To do this, we turned to a hands-on lab exercise – what we call a Technology Validation.
What did we find? We found that Riverbed SteelFusion does indeed deliver a transformation of branch office management and capabilities, by fundamentally reducing complexity, injecting a number of powerful capabilities (such as enterprise snapshots and access to all data, copies, and tools in the enterprise) and making the branch office resilient, constantly protected, and instantly recoverable. While the change in capabilities is significant, this also translates into a significant impact on time and effort, and we captured a number of metrics throughout our hands-on look at SteelFusion. For the details, we turn to the full report.
Whether a customer is making their first foray into external storage technology, or buying their 100th storage array, there is little doubt in most customers' minds that storage can be hard. Specialized storage technology, combined with significant cost and the critical nature of stored data, mix together to make storage one of the riskiest endeavors most IT practitioners will undertake.
Over the past two years, the storage market has exploded with offerings that provide more storage system choices than ever before. In part, this is due to the recent and rapid introduction of technologies like flash storage that have enabled new companies to bring to market fairly competent storage systems with significantly less engineering effort.
There is little doubt that the resulting competition and choice are a boon to the customer, as this can drive down prices, and compel vendors to innovate and deliver new features more aggressively. But sometimes, new technologies may leave lingering surprises for the customer - especially for those customers trying to build a long term and lasting storage strategy. Moreover, storage technology is changing in multiple dimensions. There is a revolutionary shift toward software-defined capabilities, while simultaneously media, controller architectures, virtual infrastructure integrations, and workload patterns are all simultaneously changing. In the midst of such change, it is more important than ever to be attentive to what really matters, and in a changing market, what matters is not always clear. In our view, the consideration of the storage practitioner must broaden, and consider a careful balancing act that considers both new capabilities - like agility and cost-optimizing software-defined functionality - and foundational storage underpinnings that are too easy to take for granted. In this product profile, we've turned our sights on a recent product introduction from IBM - the Storwize V5000 - to consider how IBM is integrating a broad swatch of new capabilities while building those capabilities on a field proven and deeply architected storage foundation.
At its core, Software Defined Storage decouples storage management from the physical storage system. In practice Software Defined Storage vendors implement the solution using a variety of technologies: orchestration layers, virtual appliances and server-side products are all in the market now. They are valuable for storage administrators who struggle to manage multiple storage systems in the data center as well as remote data repositories.
What Software Defined Storage does not do is yield more value for the data under its control, or address global information governance requirements. To that end, Data Defined Storage yields the benefits of Software Defined Storage while also reducing data risk and increasing data value throughout the distributed data infrastructure. In this report we will explore how Tarmin’s GridBank Data Management Platform provides Software Defined Storage benefits and also drives reduced risk and added business value for distributed unstructured data with Data Defined Storage.