Anyone who has endured the painful wait of a slow-loading application is familiar with the frustration and lost productivity that follows. That's the problem that motivated Riverbed and Akamai to join forces for a new SaaS acceleration offering, with the objective of resolving SaaS application performance issues that were previously untouchable.

The Steelhead Cloud Accelerator launched this week is available as a subscription-based addon to Riverbed's Steelhead WAN optimisation products. It combines Riverbed's WANOpt tools with Akamai's Internet optimisation technology to help improve performance not only in the enterprise network but also across the public Internet connection through which the SaaS application is delivered.

Lydia Leong, research vice president at Gartner, says the partnership is the first sign of relief for a problem network managers have struggled with for years. In the past, the only real solution was to tell users to cope with it, Leong says.

While many enterprises implement WAN optimisation products to ensure high performance for app delivery within the enterprise network, they are still susceptible to the performance issues that can result from the SaaS provider's delivery methods. This is because SaaS delivery entails some access to the public Internet. Distance from a provider's data centre, for example, could cause productivity-draining latency issues with an application, and could arise without notice if the provider were to switch customers from hosting in a data centre in one location to that in another.

These are problems that Pal Goran Johansen, a network engineer at communications provider Harris Caprock, was quite familiar with. After experiencing slow-downs and eventual outages stemming from the use of just one SaaS application, Microsoft Office 365, Harris Caprock adopted the Steelhead Cloud Accelerator to put less pressure on the bandwidth the app consumed. As a result, the company eliminated what had amounted to a 30-minute delay for end users, while also avoiding bandwidth upgrades.

Akamai Senior Product Architect Dana Burd demonstrated Steelhead Cloud Accelerator by downloading a slideshow presentation via Office 365. When the process was completed without the offering, the file took about 22 seconds to download and another minute to upload again. The same file accessed with the accelerator enabled downloading almost immediately and uploading in approximately five seconds.

These kinds of benefits are what Leong believes will attract new customers once the word begins to spread. While the solution is marketed at customers running the three major SaaS applications - Office 365, Google Apps and - Leong says stronger demand will come from those that run smaller applications, which are more prone to latency issues.

"The initial three are actually providers that have relatively good performance. It's certainly not perfect, as you could see from the demo, but it's not horrible performance," Leong says. "As you get into providers that are not as well deployed, as many smaller providers are deployed in just a single data centre, you're going to see even more demand for the solution."

The partnership comes at an ideal time for Riverbed, which is competing in a WAN optimsation market that has been pegged for vendor shake up and intense competition in 2012. Taking this unique approach to the market could be an effective strategy for the market-leading Riverbed, Leong says.