Silver Peak claims AutoCAD advantage over Riverbed

Silver Peak says its WAN optimization product has fewer problems deduplicating AutoCAD 2007 files than Riverbed's, but more testing will be needed to validate the comparison.

WAN optimization vendor Silver Peak Systems Inc., looking for an edge on market leader Riverbed Technologies Inc., claims its devices do not suffer from the compatibility problems that Riverbed has admitted to with AutoCAD 2007 and 2008.

Both companies have publicly addressed the issue with data deduplication products brought about by changes to Autodesk Inc.'s drawing (DWG) file format in the 2007 and 2008 versions of AutoCAD. As reported earlier this month, the latest AutoCAD file format rescrambles bytes within a file whenever it's saved, making the blocks look new to data deduplication products. This has rendered Riverbed's data reduction technology less effective, angering customers because it takes them much longer to save AutoCAD files when using Riverbed Steelhead appliances.

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Last week, SilverPeak said it has verified its products work correctly with AutoCAD. "There has been uproar recently among AutoCAD customers because certain older WAN optimization products appear incompatible with newer AutoCAD file formats," company officials said in a prepared statement. "Silver Peak has worked with AutoDesk and other customers to verify that Silver Peak's NX appliances do not suffer this limitation." Silver Peak officials also said they "took exception" to Riverbed's claim that all data deduplication or WAN optimization products will have the same problem.

Silver Peak officials have since softened the statement that their NX series appliances suffer no limitation, but they continue to maintain that any degradation in data reduction is slight. According to Silver Peak director of marketing Jeff Aaron, Silver Peak's average reduction was 78% for the 2004 version of AutoCAD's DWG file format and 70% with the 2007 and 2008 versions of the file format. He said these numbers are consistent regardless of the incremental save percentage set by the AutoCAD user.

Riverbed also has clarified its original statements to emphasize that it only sees significant degradation with file saves where the incremental save percentage is set to zero, meaning 100% of the file bits will be rescrambled on save. Riverbed's comparative results in this use case, detailed in a webinar for customers in late February, show that an 8 MB AutoCAD 2004 drawing would take more than 100 seconds to save without Riverbed's Steelhead appliance and only 14 seconds with the Riverbed appliance. Meanwhile, the same file in AutoCAD 2007 would take 71 seconds to save with Steelhead.

Users urged to step up testing

Silver Peak said its NX product does a more granular byte-by-byte comparison of data and that it works at the IP layer, while Riverbed Steelhead appliances work at the TCP layer and group bytes together for comparison. NX users who could validate the vendor's claims from real-world testing were not available for interviews.

For Riverbed chief scientist Mark Day, Silver Peak's explanation doesn't stand up. "It's trivially true, but every product looks at individual bytes," he said. A WAN optimization product must still represent the bytes it removes for reassembly at the other end of the wire, "and if they're removing each individual byte they've seen before, then how are they representing it on the other side? If they're using another byte to represent it, then that's not removing any data."

Silver Peak chief technology officer David Hughes refused to go further into technical differentiations, claiming it would expose Silver Peak's intellectual property. Each vendor challenged the other to publish test results and show their work. Executives on both sides said they were willing to do the tests, but how or when that would happen remains to be seen.

Forrester Research analyst Rob Whiteley advised users to step up prepurchase testing on products from either vendor. Until now, most users chose a WAN optimization product based on cost, scalability and reliability. But as data grows, applications are revised and traffic patterns change, and then the subtle differentiators between products will become more crucial. "These products need to be tested in a production network, since no lab will replicate the same idiosyncrasies as you see in real WAN traffic," he said. "And they need to be tested over a significant period of time, ideally a 60- to 90-day window."

Most vendors don't agree to evaluation periods that long, but that could soon change. "AutoCAD may be the application rearing its ugly head now, but more things like this are coming down the road, like video and RDP, that will see these same arguments all over again," Whiteley said.

Autodesk perspective

Autodesk uses the Silver Peak product in its internal IT department, which Silver Peak points to as evidence that its product performs better than Riverbed's on Autodesk applications. Autodesk officials declined to elaborate on why Silver Peak was chosen or whether it was chosen over Riverbed. "That's a decision by our internal director of IT, and it's a totally separate division," said Eric Stover, product line manager.

Autodesk engineers are still plugging away on the problem with Riverbed to find short-term workarounds. Autodesk upgrades AutoCAD on three-year cycles, and its next upgrade is due next year. Guri Stark, vice president of AutoCAD and platform solutions for Autodesk, said that upgrade will address compatibility with data deduplication systems more proactively. "Users should see some improvement soon," he promised.

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