Network Instruments Increases Performance Management Capabilities

Monitoring and managing how well networks and applications perform in today's increasingly multi-tiered, highly distributed environments is complex. It requires information culled from the myriad network devices, systems and applications to understand where problems are occurring, how they are impacting end users, and how they can be resolved. Network Instruments is tackling this complexity with new additions to its Observer performance monitoring platform.

May 27, 2010

4 Min Read
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Monitoring and managing how well networks and applications perform in today's increasingly multi-tiered, highly distributed environments is complex. It requires information culled from the myriad network devices, systems and applications to understand where problems are occurring, how they are impacting end users, and how they can be resolved. Network Instruments is tackling this complexity with new additions to its Observer performance monitoring platform.

Observer Reporting Server (ORS), unveiled last month, provides dashboard displays of mission-critical application and service health via modules that can be configured to present up-to-the-minute updates on VoIP systems, cloud services, application response time, server health, MS Exchange performance and even URL-based performance reports from service providers. ORS is available as an appliance (an enterprise version) that can poll both locally and remotely; a software version is also available.

This month, Network Instruments added Observer Infrastructure, a tool that reports to ORS and watches an organization's network infrastructure, thus complementing its existing technologies for packet and application performance management. Observer Infrastructure includes device health monitoring, IP service level agreement testing, server monitoring, event notification and mapping.

"This is a single solution to help customers understand performance in a multi-tiered, highly distributed environment," says Brad Reinboldt, product manager at Network Instruments. Observer Infrastructure is an upgrade to Network Instrument's previous Link Analyst, with new features including support for Cisco Network Based Application Recognition (NBAR), which can intelligently identify and classify mission-critical applications to help delegate and ensure service levels, Cisco IP SLA, which helps administrators analyze IP service levels for IP applications and services, and Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS), an optimization solution that accelerates applications over the WAN. The Cisco IP SLA support can, for example, enable regular testing of network responsiveness and actively simulate VoIP calls. The tool also leverages SNMP and Microsoft's Window Management Instrumentation (WMI) and Web Services on Devices (WSD) to obtain device performance and related status metrics.

More importantly, Network Instruments has tightly integrated Observer Infrastructure into its Observer platform--which includes Observer for troubleshooting and Gigastor for trend analysis, long-term data capture and data mining--so that network operations teams can have a completely integrated view of performance on a single console. "The integration adds an additional viewpoint to Observer and Gigastor, providing deep, detailed views of what is going on with application to application performance and the health of the actual devices that make up a network," says Jim Frey, research director with research, analysis and consulting firm Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). Frey says network operation centers typically have to rely on multiple products to provide all the performance management and monitoring information they need. "The integration here is a really strong story."Paul Langway, Network Instruments premier dealer with reseller PVP Sales, agrees. "The integration of OI into their aggregated high level reporting provides the user the ability to understand at a glance the root cause of the problem that often looks like a network issue, but ends up being an issue in the application or the platform the application is running on--such as processor utilization, available memory, load balancing issues," he says. According to Langway, there are many solutions that identify device issues or application performance. But most don't aggregate the information in a single tool, providing the user "with a top-down approach to drill down to the specific area from a single report."

Observer Infrastructure also is designed to help organizations monitor performance of VMware's virtual machines (VMs) by discovering and monitoring VMs and virtual hosts to poll their CPU and memory and track utilization and resource consumption metrics. "Companies want to be able to drill into that opaque environment," says Network Instruments' Reinboldt.

Managing virtual and cloud-computing environments remains a challenge for many organizations, says EMA's Frey. In particular, it can be difficult to monitor virtual traffic on the wire, between hosts and even between virtual machines within a single host. Network Instruments' offers Virtual TAP functionality (announced in March 2009), which is designed to direct all traffic to a dedicated virtual NIC then mirrored on one of the host's physical NICs so it can be analyzed and monitored.

While Frey says Network Instrument's Virtual TAP is a good approach, there are still hurdles. "Most shops aren't willing to dedicate VMs to these types of probing. VMs are often under the control of systems administrators and they don't care about or know about or want probes on the VMs," he says. Available now, the Observer Reporting Server appliance costs $25,000. The Observer Infrastructure appliance is priced at $17,500, and to additional appliances or software range in price depending on the number of devices managed.

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