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Virtual Instruments improves SAN monitoring probe, software

Sonia Lelii

Virtual Instruments Inc. today upgraded its SAN monitoring products with a new SAN Performance Probe and updated VirtualWisdom software. Both products can

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provide visibility in a Fibre Channel (FC) SAN and help administrators analyze and troubleshoot performance problems.

The SAN Performance Probe, which replaces the SanInsight Probe FCX, is an out-of-band 2U monitoring appliance that gets real-time data from Fibre Channel (FC) headers. The new device has 205 metrics, compared to 108 in the previous version. Administrators can use these metrics to gain a granular view of how the I/O traffic is moving in a FC SAN. The probe now also supports 8 Gbps FC compared to the previous version that supported 4 Gbps. Virtual Instruments executives said they plan support for 16 Gbps FC and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) in future versions.

The SanInsight Probe FCX product was developed at Finisar Corp. before Virtual Instruments spun out of that company in 2008. The SAN Performance Probe is its first product completely developed since the spin-off.

“The market told us it was time for the next-generation probe,” said Skip Bacon, CTO for Virtual Instruments.

“It’s a new box, built from the ground up to replace the FCX that came from Finisar,” said Eric Slack, senior analyst at Storage Switzerland. “The probe has eight channels, monitoring eight separate FC links at the same time. The hardware probe sits on a network and samples Fibre Channel frames that go past the probe. Nobody does that in the Fibre Channel world.”

The SAN Performance Probe connects to a Windows-based server on the backend and Virtual Instrument’s SANInsight Traffic Access Point (TAP) on the front end. The TAP device, which acts like a signal splitter, sits between the FC switches and storage arrays. The SAN Performance Probe gets real-time monitoring data from the FC frame headers. The headers contain metadata, including source destination, routing, read and writes, and data latency from the I/O traffic.

Bacon said the metric gaining the most interest is the buffer-to-buffer credits. When a device logs onto a switch, the two devices agree on how many credits are available. Any time traffic is sent, it has to be accompanied by a credit. A brown-out can occur or performance can stop if the credits are slow to move or they are not exchanged. “We can tell you if a credit is slow or if the device ran out of credits,” Bacon said. “We have several metrics that track the state of the credits.”

The company’s VirtualWisdom runs on two other probes, which like the SAN Performance Probe have been rebranded. The Virtual Server Probe, previously called the Virtual Wisdom ProbeVM, resides on a Windows-based server and gathers performance data from VMware vCenter APIs. The SAN Availability Probe software, previously called a ProbeV, also resides on the server and pulls SNMP data from FC switches so IT administrators can get Storage Resource Management (SRM) data.

 “We’ve renamed the products so they make sense,” Virtual Instruments CEO John Thompson said.

The VirtualWisdom 3.0 core software is embedded with a SQL database that has been upgraded to handle the additional number of metrics being processed. It also has been enhanced so administrators get a better view of the complex virtual fabric, particularly of all the relationships between the virtual and physical ports. Automated fabric discovery, a new topology navigation and search capability have been added. “Now in the UI, we make it easier to see ports for mitigation and diagnostics,” Bacon said.

Virtual Instruments also hired George Harrington, formerly of IBM Corp., BMC Software Inc. and Symantec Corp., as chief financial officer as the company prepares to go public. “We would like to do an IPO,” said Thompson.

Thompson, the former Symantec Corp. CEO who took over at Virtual Instruments in May 2010, said the vendor has 100 customers and he expects to be profitable in 15 to 18 months. Thompson first joined Virtual Instruments as an investor and board member in 2009.  He also served on the National Infrastructure Advisory Committee (NIAC), making recommendations regarding security of U.S infrastructure, under the President George W. Bush administration.


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