Wide Area Network Acceleration

Riverbed ‘Steelhead’ network acceleration devices are an amazing piece of technology! We regularly come across Sunshine Coast businesses that believe they need to upgrade their data connection. With this new product we now offer as part of our IT Services,  it is often cheaper to deploy Steelhead on existing links rather than pay high prices for increased bandwidth. Why not simply optimise what you already have?


There are many types of wide area network (WAN) accelerators on the market right now, but Riverbed has managed to stay ahead in the Gartner magic quadrant reports, leading the field for many years. Riverbed ‘ Steelhead’ devices are typically deployed at either end of a connection (typically a WAN or high latency connection). Steelheads will ‘peer’ with each other to build up data reference tables in what Riverbed calls SDR (scaleable data referencing).

To explain, let’s look at a pair of Steelheads working together below, but also note that this ‘peer’ behaviour can work just as effectively across multiple sites over enormous networks.

What is SDR?

SDR is the key to traffic optimisation between Steelheads, so bear with us!

Consider an IP conversation across a network being comprised of thousands of packets of data. Now imagine these packets are words in a conversation between two Steelheads at sites A and B.

If each word is represented by one thousand packets in a conversation, then the sentence “THE BROWN DOG” would flow from Steelhead site A to Steelhead site B for the first time as three thousand individual data packets. Each Steelhead adds these ‘words’ to its local onboard database, but tags each word with a unique, tiny reference code (let’s say two packets). The next time “THE BROWN DOG” is recognised by Steelhead site A for transmission to Steelhead site B, instead of sending every word (3,000 packets’ worth), Steelhead site A only sends six reference code packets (two for each word) across the link to Steelhead site B. Site B then recognises that these 6 packets represent “ THE BROWN DOG” and rebuilds the entire sentence locally from its own database. Users at site B are presented with the full sentence as if it hadn’t travelled across a long latency link, because it takes so much less time to send six packets across the WAN than three thousand. Now scale that up for the millions of packets transmitted every minute across your network!

This is Scaleable Data Referencing in action and a key premise of ‘WAN optimisation’.

Now that we (hopefully) understand SDR, let’s think about how optimisation would handle email traffic. It’s surprising how much repetitive information (signatures, pictures, branding, company logos, html links, marketing statements etc) is included in email. This content equates to thousands of packets of data sent constantly and wastefully across the network. By ensuring that signatures, logos etc are referenced and held locally, it’s easy to see how SDR would drastically improve the response time and performance of your company email. If you’re paying for actual data consumed, then this translates  to a direct cost-saving (hands up, you 4G users!).

For mobile workers, the Steelhead ‘mobile client’ software runs on laptops and acts as a built-in accelerator. This enables remote/home working to be much faster and more productive by reducing the effect of latency experienced when working on local Internet connections. This mobile client works in the same way as an appliance with SDR, but uses the local hard drive to store its database and references. For Sunshine Coast small businesses where connectivity is often the limiting factor, Steelhead is a game-changer.


The Steelheads will run SDR on all types of TCP traffic by default, but they also have very specific optimisation streams for common ‘chatty’ types of traffic such as
CIFS (including encrypted SMB1 and SMB2), HTTP(S), Oracle forms, MAPI (Exchange), SQL, NFS, Lotus Notes, Citrix (ICA and Session reliabilty), FCIP and SRDF.

At Tele2 we have seen Steelhead produce dramatic improvements in response times for print traffic, Windows mapped drives and Outlook to Exchange conversations. Huge improvements are also experienced over stable ADSL links.


Contact the Tele2 team today to find out how we can optimise your data traffic, and discover how we have deployed Steelhead at a low, monthly cost for Sunshine Coast and Brisbane businesses. We have recently used Steelhead acceleration to improve Microsoft 365 performance.

Steelhead technology and associated professional services are fully supported by the Telstra Business Service funding programme.