Virtual Instruments’ cure for FC SAN blindness

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Virtual infrastructures may appear simple on the surface, but there is a lot going between the servers and storage across the network; it’s complex. So pity the poor IT or storage manager who knows something is wrong but can’t pinpoint it.

Problems need to be identified fast and resolved quickly – or, for instance, SLAs could be violated – and a tool to give a clear infrastructure view in real time is really a must to achieve that.

Virtual Instruments is one company dedicated to addressing this type of problem, at least for fibre channel (FC) SANs. Its latest software, VirtualWisdom 3.0, carries out analysis of SAN I-O traffic in real time – and can do this in relation to individual business critical applications running within a virtualised setup.

VirtualWisdom includes a GUI dashboard that, unusually, visually tracks all functions – servers, networks and storage – in a single display. This cross-domain, vendor-neutral, view facilitates rapid and precise performance tuning and fault diagnosis.

More typical is what Virtual Instruments refers to as “SAN blindness”, caused by a lack of appropriate monitoring tools; performance monitoring tools usually focus only on one part of the infrastructure so, even if comprehensive for that, they cannot present a collated view, let alone in real-time.

With the rapid advance of virtual servers and virtual storage, including in the cloud, such tools should be a must. Indeed, the move to a single storage pool servicing multiple virtual server applications frequently results in major performance degradation, and testing with an appropriate application mix should quickly pinpoint what is the bottleneck. So, it is remarkable that so few such performance tools exist today.

This week’s release also includes a new 8Gb-capable SAN hardware performance probe that significantly adds to the metrics displayed. It can monitor up to eight FC links at once, looking at each frame in a FC SAN to give stats on storage I-O between a VM and the storage array LUN being accessed. The probe has redundant and hot-swappable power supplies and cooling fans; as some of Virtual Instruments’ users have pointed out, if the monitoring devices themselves were to fail, SAN blindness would immediately return.

Also new to VirtualWisdom 3.0 is the RemoteWisdom Access Platform, facilitating remote file access into VirtualWisdom servers by Virtual Instruments’ own support personnel. This will help streamline support and minimise disruption if VirtualWisdom monitoring problems occur. It is also a sign of three-year-old US start-up Virtual Instruments’ international expansion plans; for instance, it now has 34 staff in UK, France and Germany.

Other data gathering devices include a virtual server probe for VMware vSphere environments, a SAN availability probe to monitor SAN directors and switches, and the SANInsight TAP patch panel system which accesses data passively from the fibre optical physical layer. The system is agentless.

I see this as almost a must have for large FC SAN users (plus FCoE) as many of them already know. My question is: who is out there with this capability for SAN types other than FC in a virtual environment? For them, it seems, SAN blindness will live on for a while yet.