The Riverbed-Xirrus Acquisition: Thoughts from an Engineer on the Inside


When Riverbed acquired next-generation Wi-Fi networking provider Xirrus earlier this year, the synergies were striking. Though Riverbed is best known for WAN solutions, both companies are at the cutting edge of software-defined networking and policy-based orchestration, and share a common vision of intuitive, edge-to-edge monitoring and visibility.

Xirrus product highlights include:

  • Xirrus Wi-Fi networks are managed by a single control console based in the cloud for total flexibility and scalability
  • Xirrus’ access points are very easy to deploy and use patented technology to handle truly stunning user loads
  • Xirrus is already aligned with the values of Riverbed SteelConnect's networking philosophy, and Riverbed's product roadmap has Xirrus integrating with SteelConnect in the future
  • For more background, read “What Xirrus Means for You: Run Secure Wi-Fi Networks from a Simple Cloud-Based Console

Even Xirrus' Jack Horner, who is now a Riverbed VP of engineering, was surprised by how deeply the similarities ran, with each company's technologies complementing the other's. Riverbed Connections recently spoke with Horner to get his insider's perspective on the acquisition and the technologies at play.

Speaking the same language

Horner quickly discovered that Xirrus and Riverbed had a lot in common. Both companies, for example, had made the pivot from waterfall-driven, annual releases to cloud-first, frequent iteration, customer-driven, agile development methodologies. Horner learned all this and more during his first merger meeting.

“We were all speaking the same language because we were facing some of the same challenges," says Horner. "Solving incredibly complex problems but making it look simple. I was really excited that we were facing the same sorts of technical challenges from a product perspective and approaching them in the same kind of way. So that's the highest-level synergy."

An un-RESTful four hours

Further commonalities came to light as the two groups delved into technical matters. They both leveraged the same application identification engine for deep-packet inspection, for example, and made extensive use of RESTful APIs. Horner has a story about that…

"I told Riverbed that everything we did in our management platform was exposed through a RESTful API. And they said, 'everything?' I said, yep, absolutely everything. But they were skeptical because that’s unusual."

At the next meeting, Horner's Riverbed engineering counterpart threw down a gauntlet: Prototype the SteelConnect Manager talking to the cloud-based Xirrus Management System and controlling Xirrus access points… in four hours.

“Initially, I panicked. After taking a deep breath, I grabbed one of our best guys on the cloud team, introduced him to Riverbed's VP and their engineer, and the four of us headed to a quiet room," says Horner. "And yes, we got it done. I think they were amazed how quickly we could integrate these products."

Single panes and network-wide policies

Speaking of integration, Xirrus' Wi-Fi technologies will be incorporated into Riverbed's portfolio over several phases.

The most natural place to start, of course, will be with SteelConnect. Horner notes that many customers would like to combine WAN and Wi-Fi solutions, controlled by a single pane of glass. So, to start, users will be able to manage Xirrus Wi-Fi networks from within SteelConnect.

"Phase two, then, will be taking the policies you're building and being able to publish those all the way out to the edge," says Horner.

Fiber or radio, edge-to-edge

For the third phase of the initial Riverbed / Xirrus integration the key word is Visibility. "We’re taking a look at what opportunities there would be for Xirrus to provide data or get data back from [Riverbed's] visibility solutions in order to make better policy decisions and do better troubleshooting," says Horner.

Consider a recent addition to the SteelCentral portfolio, Aternity, which monitors end-user experiences. Users might be having app performance issues, which Aternity attributes to Wi-Fi. Xirrus could then cross-correlate and show that each of these users is using a single faulty access point.

"Basically, we'll be able to offer visibility from both the infrastructure and client sides," says Horner. "Those are the kinds of things that we think would be interesting."

A self-troubleshooting network?

Horner speculated on even more exciting possibilities ahead. "I’m so passionate about this because I feel like we’re right on the cusp of a big change in networking. Back in the command-line days you had to be a rocket scientist to configure your radios, but who has time for that today? Now a web-based GUI handles all the finer points of Wi-Fi configuration. And the exact same process has occurred on the WAN side, such as with the SD-WAN of SteelConnect."

Then, he says, combine that with what's happening with big-data analytics, the cloud, and machine learning. For example, you could track which Wi-Fi clients are having a good experience, under what conditions, and the mix between iPhones versus laptops. This is data that you can leverage to deliver a better customer experience.

"You don’t want to worry about your Wi-Fi network," he says. "You want it to tune itself. And the same is true in the SD-WAN world, right? For example, this was a great route five minutes ago, but suddenly latency has gone up dramatically, so you want to switch over here. And that’s something that SD-WAN just does."

"So this, I think, is where things become quite interesting, with cloud-managed Wi-Fi and SD-WAN heading in very similar directions right now, and growing increasingly more intelligent."

Learn more

To learn more about Xirrus next-generation Wi-Fi networking capabilities and what it can bring to your Riverbed installation visit the official page.

Further reading