Virtual Instruments Tracks Storage I/O in Virtualized Systems

New product monitors end-to-end SAN traffic, moves virtual machines to improve performance

February 24, 2009

4 Min Read
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Virtual Instruments today introduced a new monitoring product that's designed to take on a growing problem -- SAN management and optimization in virtualized environments. As IT departments try to pack more and more virtual servers on each physical server, traffic flows on the data network and the storage network can become congested and degrade performance. While there are many tools to monitor and manage traffic on data networks, the options are more limited for Fibre Chanel SANs.

At VMworld Europe today, the company introduced VirtualWisdom to help IT managers better deploy and balance virtual machines based on real-time monitoring of storage I/O. By tapping into the storage network and monitoring the traffic flow, VirtualWisdom can track latency and bandwidth usage and identify potential problems caused by device failures, congestion, and errors. The company says it can provide real-time data on everything from physical and virtual machines through the host bus adapter through the switch to the storage array.

"VMware essentially has no visibility into the I/O. As virtual servers are beginning to pop up everywhere, they are beginning to congest the SAN and that is beginning to cause problems. The challenge is you can't really see inside the SAN like you can see inside the LAN see the traffic. So we are getting I/O bottlenecks that are hard to identify," Virtual Instruments CEO Mark Urdahl told Byte and Switch. VirtualWisdom puts a passive tap on a fiber link to gather data on storage traffic without slowing the network; sends the information to a collection and analysis appliance; time stamps everything; and sends it all to a portal where it is available for review. It can also pull data from switches and VMware's vCenter.

"This kind of data hasn't been available and we can use it to optimize performance on the SAN," Urdahl says. He gives an example of one server with four virtual machines and another with three VMs. "We can see that the first server is generating excessive SAN I/O and hogging all of the bandwidth so we can trigger Vmotion and move an app from the first server to the second server."

More companies will require this kind of monitoring and management as they try to expand their use of virtual servers in data centers to improve server utilization rates. But few companies are using server virtualization for mission-critical applications because of discover performance problems, Urdahl says. "It ends up being a huge multi-vendor issue and nobody will take responsibility. For users, it can be hard to determine what is causing the problem. We let them get to the root cause immediately."Virtual Instruments, which was a private equity-financed spinoff from Finisar last year, is starting off by offering a HealthCheck Service that will cost $25,000 to $50,000. It also plans to offer a product next quarter that will cost around $400 a switch port, plus the number of links being monitored.

Chris Wolf, a senior analyst at research firm Burton Group says IT departments are having a harder time troubleshooting problems because virtualization creates additional layers of abstraction in the data center. "When problems arise you need very deep insights into the data path. The only way to truly visualize what is going on is some form of active monitoring," he says.

Too many IT departments just look at available computing power and space when deciding where to place a new virtual machine, and are then surprised when they get lower than expected performance, Wolf says. VirtualWisdom allows IT managers to factor in latency and I/O availability, which can be critical issues in determining performance, he says.

As server virtualization becomes more prevalent in data centers and virtual machines are moved from one server to another, users are going to need better tools to manage and optimize their infrastructure. Wolf cited Virtual Wisdom and tools from Akorri as examples of a new breed of management apps designed for virtual environments. "The big difference between their architectures is that Virtual Instruments is using a Finisar probe to collect data and Akorri is gathering data from the switches and arrays in the SAN fabric," he says.

"As we head down the path of a converged fabric in the data center, the shared infrastructure will create more complexity and management becomes more critical than ever," Wolf says. "I think we are going to see more tools like this from a variety of vendors."0

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