Riverbed's updated Granite to bring more power to branch sites

The hardware and software platform lets enterprises centralize operations while maintaining local caches

For many organizations with far-flung operations, total centralization through cloud storage and computing isn't possible despite advancing technologies and rising network speeds.

Riverbed Technologies set out to help those enterprises last year with its Granite architecture. Granite, which consists of core and edge appliances and software, lets organizations centralize storage and data protection functions while still running applications and keeping a cache of often-used data at each branch. It uses Riverbed technology for more efficient transfers of data across networks, and it can also aid offline operation if a branch is temporarily cut off. An update to Granite, set to be announced Monday, brings more powerful branch appliances and other enhancements to the system.

One company that relies on Granite is Alamos Gold, a Toronto-based gold production company with operations in Mexico and Turkey. Its branch offices are so remote that they need microwave wireless links to reach the nearest wireline network. Those connections are vulnerable to adverse weather. An even bigger challenge is the cost of high-speed wired links in the countries where Alamos' branch sites are located, according to Rohit Tellis, director of IT at Alamos.

Because of slow network speeds, file access and printing were hard for remote Alamos employees, who regularly deal with large amounts of geologic data and use CAD for engineering, Tellis said. So the company set up Granite appliances at its branches, each of which needs fast access to about 1TB to 5TB of heavily used data.

As employees work on the cached data, Granite synchronizes it with central storage and creates snapshots of the information in its current state. The updated Granite, which Alamos has been beta testing, streamlines those processes, Tellis said. The company can now more fully automate backup and recovery, partly because the software is more tightly integrated with other elements such as VMware and iSCSI storage gear in the data center, he said.

Also in the Granite upgrade, Riverbed is adding the option of connecting the system to Fibre Channel storage instead of just iSCSI. Meanwhile, the edge appliance for Granite, which is part of the company's Steelhead product line and is available in three versions, is getting more powerful. The newly introduced Steelhead EX 1360 appliance features eight-core processors for a speed boost over the current EX 1260, and it has 10TB of usable cache capacity, up from 4TB. The new appliance can also perform more IOPS (I/O operations per second), Riverbed Marketing Director Jerome Noll said.

Most cloud implementations are centered on established SaaS (software as a service) applications such as email and customer relationship management, said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Bob Laliberte. The long tail of specialized or internally developed applications, including ones used in manufacturing, mining, oil and gas exploration, haven't made the leap to SaaS and may never, he said. Other fields, such as law and government, don't want their data stored out in a cloud.

"There are definitely organizations moving toward and leveraging cloud computing, and they're doing it for specific applications," Laliberte said. "And there's probably just as many or more industries that have certain applications that just aren't cloud ready yet, and they need to still be hosted by that organization."

The increased power and capacity in the new edge appliance is the biggest improvement in Granite and will make it useful to more enterprises, Laliberte said. "After they had announced this and started talking to people, they realized they needed more horsepower," he said.

The Steelhead EX 1360 and the new Granite 2.5 software are expected to be available in the third quarter. The Granite Edge platform for branches starts at a list price of US$7,495, and Granite Core for data centers starts at $7,995.

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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