Q&A: Riverbed CEO sees WANs in the data center and the cloud

Jerry Kennelly also gives his views on battling with Cisco, expanding Riverbed's product line and opportunities in the cloud.

If you think wide-area network (WAN) optimization is a niche market, don't bring it up around Jerry Kennelly. The co-founder, chairman and CEO of San Francisco-based Riverbed Technology, Kennelly is a fervent believer that WAN optimization is the foundation for the next generation of IT infrastructure and that Riverbed is poised for a dominant role not only in corporate data centers but in the cloud as well.

Since its founding in 2002, Riverbed has become the leader in WAN optimization (according to consultancy Gartner Group, Inc.), and it continues to grow at a rapid clip. The company had 39% year-over-year revenue expansion in its first fiscal quarter ended June 30. In this installment of the IDG Enterprise CEO Interview Series, Kennelly spoke with IDGE Chief Content Officer John Gallant and Network World Senior Editor Tim Greene about battling with Cisco Systems, the expansion of Riverbed's product line and big opportunities in the cloud.

Where does Riverbed go beyond WAN optimization? You are a dominant player, but the danger is that you become a one-trick pony. How do you expand the scope of this business? What we're really doing is layer-seven application acceleration, and that has much deeper implications than simply making a particular land line faster and cheaper than it was. It's something that changes the nature of global IT infrastructure for every major company in the world. Everyone likes a fast line. It was attractive to people because it saves them bandwidth. It's much cheaper to do optimization and compression across the network than to buy bigger links. But then we saw people doing data center consolidation with it, which is moving all the server and IT infrastructure out of branch offices, out of multiple data centers into just one or two.

That trend has driven a lot of our growth in the last three years. Our products make that possible because you can't do data center consolidation unless you can give reasonable performance to the people who no longer have local servers.

We woke up one morning about six months ago to discover - wait a minute - what we're doing is creating private clouds, because what data center consolidation does is the creation of a private cloud. So, in fact, we've actually penetrated the cloud market.

The further implication is that if you have to have our technology to do private clouds, well, guess what, you can't do public clouds without it either. The biggest companies in the world - the biggest service providers, the biggest systems integrators, the biggest Fortune 100 companies - are coming to Riverbed to ask us 'how do we do our cloud infrastructure into the future?'

Cisco started out in the multiprotocol router business and expanded into many other areas, including switching, storage, security and more. Should we expect to see a similar, diverse growth track and expansion plan for Riverbed? Cisco is the layer two and three of networking, but the action now is less at layer two and three and much more layers four through seven. Cisco's the king of two and three and we're the king of four through seven.

We just have a huge future for ourselves. We bring the capability customers could only dream about, that no one thought was ever possible, and here we are delivering it. There is a big product future, revenue future, for us. We're a strategic partner. I talk to CIOs all the time now, and the importance of having knowledge workers connect to their applications effectively, cheaply, globally, seamlessly, 24-7, is critical for them. That's what we do. That gives us an incredible position going into the next decade.

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