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FAQ: Comparing Silver Peak and Riverbed Steelhead Products

February 2012


Silver Peak first introduced their NX Series WAN optimization products in 2005, about one year after Riverbed first introduced the Steelhead, the market-leading solution. Although Riverbed and Silver Peak have been shipping WAN optimization products for nearly the same amount of time, Silver Peak today remains a small private company. In contrast, Riverbed commands a dominant market position, evidence that customers overwhelmingly choosing Riverbed products over Silver Peak offerings.

To compensate for the limited adoption of their products, Silver Peak frequently issues marketing messages that attempt to distract from their product weaknesses, while inaccurately characterizing Riverbed products and technology. The result is often confusion among customers seeking to make an informed purchase decision.

This FAQ addresses the top questions that arise when comparing Riverbed and Silver Peak products and technology. It also debunks Silver Peak’s inaccurate statements that are circulating about Steelhead WAN optimization products and technology.

Is customer adoption growing faster for Silver Peak than for Riverbed?

Riverbed is a public company with audited financial statements showing strong and consistent yearly growth that few in the high- tech industry can match. For FY2011, revenues were $726 million, up 32 percent from $552 million in the prior year. In contrast, Silver Peak is a private company that does not disclose financial statements to the public, which makes it difficult to verify Silver Peak claims about their customer adoption rate. There is no evidence that the adoption rate of Silver Peak products surpasses that of Riverbed.

Over the past few years, Silver Peak has made notable claims about their revenue growth. At one point in 2010, the company claimed to be experiencing 70 percent growth. The following year, Silver Peak claimed to be the “fastest-growing” WAN optimization vendor. However, estimates by reputable industry analysts consistently reported Silver Peak’s market share to be

about 7 percent or less throughout this time. If Silver Peak’s growth had been truly sustained during the periods they have been

making growth-oriented claims, then Silver Peak would have grown to be a much larger company today.

explanation is that Silver Peak’s revenues are sufficiently small that they are “lumpy” on a quarter-to-quarter basis. With a small revenue base, a large order can lead to an isolated revenue spike, allowing Silver Peak to claim 70 percent growth for a given quarter, along with a brief (but irrelevant) claim to the title of “fastest-growing.”

A plausible

Are Riverbed customers replacing their Steelhead appliances with Silver Peak products?

Silver Peak often claims that numerous Riverbed customers are removing their Steelhead appliances and replacing them with Silver Peak products. If removal of Riverbed products were truly commonplace, then there should be signs of customer

dissatisfaction among Riverbed customers.

strong satisfaction scores (e.g., 4.6 out of 5) and Riverbed support contract renewal rates are among the highest in the industry.

All available evidence consistently indicates that Riverbed customers are extremely loyal and unwilling to switch to alternative vendors.

But to the contrary, regular customer surveys consistently report extraordinarily

Meanwhile, a considerable number of Silver Peak customers have replaced their Silver Peak devices with Riverbed Steelhead appliances. A common complaint heard from current and former Silver Peak customers is the lack of layer-7 application-specific optimization capabilities in Silver Peak products. The problem is that Silver Peak products are unable to address latency and protocol chattiness issues for key enterprise applications including SMBv2, Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, NFS, HTTP, and SSL. Even after Silver Peak devices are deployed, these applications continue to suffer poor performance. Many former Silver peak customers have resolved this issue by replacing their Silver Peak devices with Riverbed Steelhead products.

Which vendor’s WAN optimization products are more scalable?

Silver Peak often claims that their products are more scalable than the Riverbed Steelhead offering. But the term “scalable” can be variously used to refer any of several things, including to the ability to support large numbers of locations, large numbers of users, or a large amount of network traffic. Riverbed’s largest deployments include thousands of Steelhead appliances distributed to a matching number of networked locations, supporting as many as hundreds of thousands of end-users. There is no evidence that Silver Peak products have been deployed on a similar scale.


When optimizing large amounts of network traffic, one of the key scalability factors is the storage capacity of the WAN optimization product. When supporting high-throughput network environments involving transfers of multiple terabytes of data, “a scalable” product must be able to store and deduplicate the huge amount of data sent through the network. However, a comparison of the “most scalable” products from each vendor reveals that the largest Riverbed appliances have significantly more storage capacity than the largest Silver Peak appliances. For example, Silver Peak’s largest NX-10000 appliance is only equipped with 1.6TB of SSD storage, while the Riverbed Steelhead 7050M has 4.4TB of SSD storage. The observation that the largest Riverbed Steelhead appliance offers about three times more SSD-based storage capacity than the largest Silver Peak offering indicates that Riverbed offers more scalability.

Do Silver Peak devices optimize more applications than the Riverbed Steelhead product?

Silver Peak claims that their products optimize all applications while Riverbed only optimizes TCP-based applications. Curiously, Silver Peak overlooks the fact that their products are not capable of optimizing applications that encrypt or perform special encoding of data sent over the network, including SSL, encrypted MAPI, encrypted Lotus Notes, and Oracle Forms. Optimizing Citrix ICA traffic with Silver Peak likewise requires that the administrator disable default encryption and compression at the Citrix server (which is not necessary for Riverbed).

The basis for Silver Peak’s claim to optimize more applications appears to be their ability to process any type of IP traffic including both TCP and UDP. But Riverbed added UDP optimization in RiOS 7.0. Considering that Steelhead products can also optimize encrypted applications, it is actually Riverbed that optimizes more applications than Silver Peak.

Is Silver Peak’s network-level (layer-3) deduplication technology superior to Riverbed?

Another common claim is that Riverbed deduplication technology is inferior to Silver Peak’s “Network Memory” technology. Silver Peak makes these claims without citing any proof—no test methodology, documentation, or evidence of any kind. But these claims contradict test results commonly observed by customers when evaluating products from both vendors. In addition, there is a published report available that is validated by independent analyst firm Taneja Group, showing the Riverbed Steelhead product achieving superior compression and deduplication results compared to Silver Peak. We encourage customers to perform their own tests and verify vendor claims rather than accept them at face value.

Do Silver Peak products support more connections than Riverbed?

One of the few claims that we can agree on is that Silver Peak products support more connections than comparable Steelhead products.

However, it is important to consider the reason for this distinction. Steelhead products operate as a TCP-level proxy while Silver Peak devices operate as tunneling devices. A TCP proxy requires more memory resources for each TCP connection than a tunneling device. Unlike a tunneling device, a TCP proxy must maintain the complete state of each and every intercepted TCP connection.

More importantly, Riverbed applies comprehensive application-specific optimization mechanisms that are not available from Silver Peak. These layer-7 mechanisms address network latency and chatty protocol behavior that causes poor application performance over the WAN. Layer-7 mechanisms also address any application-specific encoding and/or encryption processing in order to apply effective deduplication to the native application data. To apply these application-specific mechanisms, memory resources are required. Since more resources are being allocated to each individual TCP connection, Riverbed must enforce a limit to the total number of TCP connections that can be optimized by a Steelhead appliance or virtual appliance.

In contrast, Silver Peak products have no application-specific knowledge (except for CIFS), and generically apply their deduplication algorithms on tunneled traffic without regard to the behavior or identity of the application. Such limited functionality requires far fewer memory resources for each tunneled connection, which allows Silver Peak to support higher connection limits.

Is Riverbed’s “application-centric” optimization approach problematic?

Riverbed has successfully deployed Steelhead products in more than 15,000 enterprise environments, and just about every one of them uses the Riverbed “application-centric” optimization approach. These customers consistently report positive experiences using Riverbed technology, which is why Riverbed is considered the market leader. Leading industry analysts estimate Riverbed WAN optimization revenues to be more than seven times larger than Silver Peak’s, which makes it surprising that Silver Peak would consider the Riverbed approach to be “problematic.”


Is Forward Error Correction (FEC) essential for packet loss?

Packet loss occurs in almost every IP network, and yet very few IP networks rely upon FEC. If FEC were truly “essential” as claimed by Silver Peak, then the architects of most IP networks would have implemented FEC. But this is not the case. The reality is that most applications rely on TCP, which provides session reliability and packet retransmission services that address packet loss in a safe and controlled manner. Those applications that don’t use TCP have chosen a connectionless service either because they have their own packet retransmission mechanisms or because they are not affected by occasional packet loss. FEC is rarely seen as beneficial in IP networks because it adds traffic overhead, along with some potentially-dangerous drawbacks.

FEC can be effective for single-packet drop patterns, such as those generated by random bit errors and WAN simulators. But applying FEC to IP networks in most real-life environments is ineffective because most packet loss is a result of network congestion. Network congestion rarely causes the isolated single-packet drop patterns where FEC is effective. Rather, studies 1 show network congestion causes loss patterns that span multiple consecutive packets. When more than one consecutive packet is lost, there is not enough surviving data for Silver Peak’s FEC mechanism to regenerate the lost packets. The situation is analogous to a multiple-disk failure in a RAID-5 protected computer system.

For more background information on FEC, including its advantages and disadvantages, please see the Riverbed white paper “Comparing Simulated and Real-World Packet Loss.”

Does Silver Peak’s “Adaptive” FEC provide an valuable new capability?

Silver Peak’s “adaptive” FEC is a feature that automatically adjusts the FEC level of protection in reaction to the amount of packet loss experienced in the network. If packet loss increases, then the FEC protection level provided by the Silver Peak device also increases. In turn, as the protection level increases, the amount of overhead traffic needed to send error-correcting parity data also increases. But section 5 of RFC 2914 specifically warns that applications that increase sending rate in response to an increased packet drop rate, such as Silver Peak’s adaptive FEC, are “destructive” to IP networks due to exposure to congestion collapse. Based on the information provided in this RFC, it appears that the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) does not recommend use of Silver Peak’s adaptive FEC feature.

Is Silver Peak’s Packet Order Correction (POC) feature essential for in-order delivery of packets?

Unlike packet loss, out-of-order delivery is rare in most IP networks. As with FEC, the architects of most IP networks have not found it necessary to implement a packet order correction feature. The reality is that the TCP transport used by most applications already guarantees in-order delivery of packets even if the network somehow delivers them in an out-of-order fashion. Those applications that don’t use TCP prefer a connectionless service because occasional out-of-order delivery of packets does not have adverse effects on that application. These facts indicate that Silver Peak’s POC feature is not essential. The more important consideration may be whether Silver Peak’s POC is counterproductive to the efficient operation of the network due to the additional overhead traffic that it imposes.

Is Riverbed QoS inferior to Silver Peak QoS?

Silver Peak often claims that their QoS is superior to Riverbed QoS, but all such claims can be debunked. A side-by-side comparison of both products contradicts Silver Peak claims that Riverbed QoS is inferior. Riverbed supports both inbound and outbound QoS while Silver only supports outbound QoS. Riverbed can enforce QoS for web traffic based on requested URL while Silver Peak does not offer such a capability. Riverbed QoS identifies applications not only by examining port numbers, but also through deep packet inspection (DPI) pattern matching, protocol dissection, future flow registration, and behavioral identification. Silver Peak lacks these capabilities and primarily identifies applications and enforces QoS by examining the application port number.

Is Riverbed QoS rudimentary?

Silver Peak often claims Riverbed QoS is rudimentary and immature without providing any supporting evidence. Riverbed QoS is based on Hierarchical Fair Service Curve (HFSC), which industry experts consider more advanced than the Packet Fair Queuing (PFQ) mechanism used in Silver Peak products. HFSC-based QoS systems decouple the process of allocating bandwidth from the process of assigning traffic priority. This allows Steelhead products to effectively provide QoS for VoIP and Citrix ICA traffic that require high-priority service, but do not consume a significant amount of bandwidth.

1 Raghavendra, R. Belding, E. Characterizing High-bandwidth Real-time Video Traffic in Residential Broadband Networks. Department of Computer Science, University of California Santa Barbara, 2009.


In contrast, Silver Peak’s PFQ-based QoS uses bandwidth allocation to prioritize traffic among different tunnels. But the

drawback with PFQ is that it can’t enforce guarantees if the amount of traffic overflows bandwidth allocations. In fact, the Silver Peak Operator’s Guide specifically states that minimum bandwidth guarantees will not be honored if overall system bandwidth

becomes oversubscribed. This is an inherent weakness of PFQ-based QoS systems, and one reason why HFSC-based QoS systems are considered more advanced.

A number of references are available online which explain the differences between HFSC and Silver Peak’s PFQ (see

Is Silver Peak QoS better than Riverbed for VoIP and ICA traffic?

Silver Peak often claims they provide better QoS than Riverbed for VoIP and ICA traffic. This claim is incorrect and easily debunked. Riverbed is able to recognize the ICA priority found in each ICA virtual channel, and to appropriately enforce QoS

based on that ICA priority. This allows Riverbed to provide QoS for ICA traffic tagged with priority levels 0 and 1, which contain

latency-sensitive ICA traffic.

prioritized traffic is only assigned a small amount of bandwidth or if overall system bandwidth becomes oversubscribed.

Riverbed is also able to guarantee the assigned bandwidth for VoIP and ICA traffic, even if the

In contrast, Silver Peak “network-level” devices do not have the application-level capabilities to distinguish ICA priority tags, and

therefore they are unable to distinguish and enforce high priority QoS for latency-sensitive ICA traffic marked with priority levels 0

and 1. Furthermore, Silver Peak’s PFQ-based QoS mechanism is unable to guarantee priority and bandwidth for VoIP and ICA traffic in the event that traffic in other tunnels becomes oversubscribed.

Does Silver Peak support more QoS traffic classes than Riverbed?

Silver Peak often claims that Riverbed supports only five traffic classes. It appears Silver Peak has mistaken Steelhead QoS priority levels for traffic classes (Riverbed supports five priority levels--realtime, interactive, high, medium, and low). The reality is Riverbed can support between 20 and 200 traffic classes (depending on the specific Steelhead product), which is more than the 10 traffic classes supported by the Silver Peak product.

Is Riverbed QoS harder to configure than Silver Peak?

Configuration difficulty can be a subjective measure, but in this case we believe Silver Peak’s claim is incorrect. The Silver Peak management interface has more required configuration steps for QoS. For example, there are two sets of bandwidth allocations that must be completed independently, one set of bandwidth allocations for optimized traffic and a second set for pass-through traffic. These involve completely separate configuration screens. In contrast, Riverbed only requires one set of bandwidth configuration for all traffic, both optimized and pass-through.

Does Riverbed have issues with AutoCAD 2007?

In 2007 Autodesk, Inc. changed the DWG file format used in AutoCAD 2007, 2008, and 2009 to incorporate compression that

could not be entirely disabled. As a result, files accessed through these pre-patched AutoCAD products were accessed over the network in a compressed format, negatively affecting deduplication results not only for Riverbed Steelhead products but also for all WAN optimization devices from other vendors.

Riverbed users were particularly affected because they included many AutoCAD users (at the time, Silver Peak had relatively few customers). As this became a well-known issue, Silver Peak made erroneous claims that their WAN optimization products were not affected by the DWG file format changes. However, third party testing validated by the Taneja Group proved that Silver Peak’s claims were incorrect. Because the 2007 DWG file format pre-compresses the data, Silver Peak’s deduplication algorithms were similarly unable to identify byte-level data redundancies in already-compressed data.

This issue was later resolved when AutoDesk eventually offered a patch that stopped compressing the DWG files stored by AutoCAD. Today, Steelhead product users get excellent performance when accessing AutoCAD drawings over the WAN. Although this issue was resolved long ago, Silver Peak continues to erroneously cite this incident as an example of how

Riverbed’s “application-centric” optimization is supposedly problematic. The reality is that the AutoCAD 2007 issue had nothing

to do with the application-specific capabilities in the Steelhead appliance, and that this previous issue also affected Silver Peak

products as much as it did Riverbed products.

For more information about this resolved issue, download the white paper: AutoCAD 2007 vs. AutoCAD 2004: The Effect on WAN Optimization Solutions.


Which are faster, Silver Peak’s virtual appliances or physical Steelhead appliances?

There is no evidence that Silver Peak’s virtual appliances are faster than physical Steelhead appliances.

In October 2011, Silver Peak posted a video on their blog website illustrating how their VX virtual appliances are supposedly faster than Riverbed physical Steelhead appliances. The video blog appears to demonstrate how Silver Peak’s virtual appliance provides a 90X improvement for the second-pass warm transfer of a 120GB pre-compressed file, while the Riverbed Steelhead appliance apparently provides no benefit at all. Not only does the video show Riverbed underperforming Silver Peak, but it also depicts the Steelhead product as a complete failure. But if the video is entirely factual, then how does one explain why the same failed Riverbed product would be purchased and implemented by more than 15,000 enterprise customers over the past 8 years.

Fortunately, there is a simple explanation. The behavior of the Riverbed product in the video can be duplicated by selecting a physical Steelhead appliance model with a smaller data store capacity inadequate for storing the entire 120GB pre-compressed file. A Steelhead appliance that is exposed to more traffic than it can store must purge previously stored data in order to make room for newly arriving data. This phenomenon is known as “data store wrapping.” When the pre-compressed file is sent a second time, the Steelhead had already purged the relevant matching data patterns from its data store. Furthermore, there are no partial byte pattern matches because the data is pre-compressed. The result is no optimization at all as the Steelhead appliance is trapped in a cycle where it is constantly purging old pre-compressed data to store new oncoming pre-compressed data.

In contrast, it appears the Silver Peak virtual appliance has been hosted on a platform provisioned with generous storage resources to ensure that the entire pre-compressed 120GB file can be saved in its data store, and that none of the file data would be purged as was the case with the Steelhead. When the same pre-compressed file is transferred a second time, the video demonstrates a 100% warm hit yielding a 90X performance improvement.

About Riverbed

Riverbed Technology is the IT infrastructure performance company. The Riverbed family of wide area network (WAN) optimization solutions liberates businesses from common IT constraints by increasing application performance, enabling consolidation, and providing enterprise-wide network and application visibility – all while eliminating the need to increase bandwidth, storage or servers. Thousands of companies with distributed operations use Riverbed to make their IT infrastructure faster, less expensive and more responsive. Additional information about Riverbed (NASDAQ: RVBD) is available at

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