Briefing Note: VI’s VirtualWisdom4 shows you how to Manage your Open Systems Performance

Virtual Instruments provides active system monitoring and management solutions that generate a significant amount of data to improve SAN efficiency and performance. But users need more than an abundance of information to effectively manage their environments. In fact, this profusion of data could actually inhibit IT’s ability to identify problem areas in the SAN and affect needed changes. To address this issue, VirtualWisdom4, Virtual Instruments’ latest version of their Infrastructure Performance Management (IPM) platform, now provides a series of tools that emphasize solutions, giving SAN managers information about what to do with all that data to achieve their infrastructure goals.

Virtual Instruments’ technology (as described in this video) leverages network probes connected to traffic access points (TAPS) to capture information about data flowing in the environment in addition to polling devices for whatever status information they may have available. This approach helps address performance management issues by providing a real-time picture of both the actual workload and the ‘elements’ in the environment – the virtual machines, servers, switches, and storage systems in application infrastructures.

With this information, users can trace specific ‘transactions’, end-to-end, from the server requesting data to the storage system that contains that data and back, through the networking infrastructure along the way. In fact, the VirtualWisdom software can actually record each of these transactions and roll back this activity to a specific point in time to help IT isolate performance problems, after the fact.

From Data to Solutions

Now Virtual Instruments is shifting from a data-centric approach to one that emphasizes solutions. Instead of providing just raw data about what’s going on in the environment, they’re using context-based analytics to provide the answers that IT is asking, or is likely to ask. This is based on the collective best practices experience that Virtual Instruments has accumulated working with their enterprise install base over the years. Called “Applied Analytics”, the four primary tools included in VirtualWisdom4 are: Balance Finder, Event Advisor, Trend Matcher and Queue Solver.

Applied Analytics

Balance Finder seeks to optimize SAN traffic across host connections, helping to ensure that the host workload is appropriately allocated. The system generates a balancing report that identifies areas of risk, single points of failure and areas of sub-optimization for which SAN traffic can be adjusted to reduce cost and improve efficiency.

Event Advisor takes a timeframe and a given metric or metrics and looks for changes that can indicate a current or pending anomaly that should be investigated, ranked by magnitude and duration. With this information, administrators can create a list of the most relevant issues that warrant closer examination, without having to manually look at every device or timeframe. Trend Matcher, typically used in conjunction with Event Advisor, helps to identify the source of a recognizable event, as well as other entities that could be impacted.

Queue depths are not well understood in many IT organizations and are consequently one of the worst-managed performance parameters in the SAN environment. Queue Solver uses actual historical HBA settings and relevant performance data to help administrators set optimal queue depths for any workload, instead of using arbitrary ‘rules of thumb’ or iterative but inefficient ‘trial and error’ methods.

16Gb FC Probe

Flash arrays are driving the adoption of 16Gb FC networks, creating the need for an upgraded probe for Virtual Instruments’ network taps. Accordingly, Virtual Instruments just announced the availability of a 16Gb FC probe, which can be configured to support 4 or 8 Gbps as well. Deploying the 16Gb-capable probe today provides investment protection for customers who are currently running at 8Gbps but have plans to upgrade to 16Gbps in the future.

VirtualWisdom-as-a-Service

VirtualWisdom4 moves the platform to a web-based user interface, enabling Virtual Instruments to offer their technology as a service, in addition. The company sees this as another option not as a replacement to their traditional on-site software solution model, and one that may fit better with certain markets. As an example, in the Asia-Pacific region and in many Federal government organizations, “Software as-a-Service” (SaaS) implementations are becoming more common than on-site software deployment. Virtual Instruments expects this new VirtualWisdom-as-a-Service solution to be a good fit for their service provider channel as well.

StorageSwiss Take

We’ve written about Virtual Instruments many times in the past several years. The company’s approach to system monitoring is unique and we’ve always been impressed with their technology – active monitoring using hardware probes instead of simply polling individual devices on the network. But if there was a downside to this technology it was that this solution may have provided too much information, or didn’t really help administrators understand how to use all that data effectively. Virtual Instruments has obviously been aware of this, and now seems to have addressed the issue with Applied Analytics.

The foundation for these new tools is real-world data and expertise that Virtual Instruments has accumulated through years of working with companies that use their technology. We’ve seen a few other manufacturers take similar innovative approaches, leveraging the knowledge of their install base and service activities to improve reliability, create best practices or enrich their customers’ experiences. Given the potential complexity of highly virtualized environments and the information overload that pervades IT, Virtual Instruments’ Applied Analytics should be welcome in most organizations.

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Eric is an Analyst with Storage Switzerland and has over 25 years experience in high-technology industries. He’s held technical, management and marketing positions in the computer storage, instrumentation, digital imaging and test equipment fields. He has spent the past 15 years in the data storage field, with storage hardware manufacturers and as a national storage integrator, designing and implementing open systems storage solutions for companies in the Western United States.  Eric earned degrees in electrical/computer engineering from the University of Colorado and marketing from California State University, Humboldt.  He and his wife live in Colorado and have twins in college.

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