Storage-Specific Network Management

Network Instruments tailors network management tools to SAN environments.
Posted November 9, 2006

Drew Robb

Drew Robb

Two important trends have emerged over the last three years that have brought the worlds of network management and storage much closer together.

First, basic network problems have evolved in complexity, often becoming more difficult to detect, never mind assign a cause. This trend is occurring in conjunction with a distinct rise in the number and variety of issues tackled by enterprise IT professionals.

These issues, of course, can result in a variety of consequences: from the onslaught of hacker and virus attacks to a greater incidence of intellectual property theft. In addition, these challenges can hamper an organization’s efforts to comply with industry and government regulations.

“To resolve these issues, administrators need the ability to capture enormous amounts of network traffic to disk for comprehensive analysis,” says Douglas Smith, president and co-founder of Network Instruments LLC of Minnetonka, MN. “Our GigaStor appliance allows organizations to store days, weeks, and even months worth of data on network performance, connections, and content to perform historical analysis and isolate network issues using its unique time-based navigation utility.”

When investigating network performance issues, for example, this eliminates the need to recreate the problem on the network. In the case of intermittency, which can’t be recreated, captured data allows the administrator to perform historical analysis and then identify, isolate, and resolve subtle network problems. For investigating network policy violations or compliance issues, this technology lets administrators reassemble packet streams and recreate e-mails, visits to web sites, IM sessions, and even VoIP calls.

GigaStor has configurations to store 2 TB, 4 TB, and 8 TB worth of data. It can also write data to a SAN. In addition to storing, it can also playback and analyze terabytes worth of data.

“The major difference here compared to competitors is that GigaStor manages all data processing and expert analysis on the appliance,” says Smith. “There is no need to transfer data back to the console for processing as only screen updates are sent across the network.”

This means analyzing data takes seconds. Network performance isn’t impacted as someone tries to transfer gigabytes of data over the network to the console for analysis. Further, Network Instruments is the only analysis vendor able to monitor and perform real-time analysis on sustained, full-duplex 10 GbE networks via its probes, portable analyzers, and retrospective analysis products.

“A custom-engineered 10 GbE capture card in the appliance provides high quality line-rate capture and performance,” says Smith. “It can perform functions such as filtering and statistics acceleration on the card, allowing the appliance to focus on delivering real-time Expert analysis at 10 GbE speeds. Because this technology is fully integrated, we’re the only company able to deliver 10 GbE across our entire product line.”

Storage Needs

Storage administrators should bear in mind that the company carries a large number of network analyzers, probes, and portable analyzers. So which might be of most use on a storage network?

Smith suggests the following:

Network Instruments Observer is the recommended network analysis console. It is a software-only, network monitoring and troubleshooting tool. This 64-bit application (a 32-bit version is also included) can monitor wired LANs and 802.11 networks.

The GigaStor Probe Appliance helps with problems such as users complaining about slow server connections, or low hardware utilization rates. Gigabit and 10 GbE Probe Appliances are available.

The Fibre Channel Observer Suite is used specifically to monitor and troubleshoot storage area networks. It decodes and provides analysis for Fibre Channel using the same interface that monitors gigabit, WAN, LAN, and wireless links. It is also a portable tool that includes a custom Gen2 Capture Card engineered by Network Instruments to ensure accurate capture of data even on fully saturated SANs. All Fibre Channel Probe Appliances are 64-bit systems, maximizing analysis with faster processing and larger capture buffers.

These tools provide storage administrators with the ability to monitor and manage over 30 real-time statistics, set alarms about potential problems, and gather long-term trending and reporting. In addition, features like application analysis provide application performance statistics, granular drill-down capabilities to view session-by-session communications, and real-time expert analysis to quickly diagnose any application issues or policy violations.

“An analyzer can monitor and identify the cause and location of issues before they impact network and application performance,” says Smith. “Not having the visibility a mature analyzer provides can halt business operations and directly impact an organization’s bottom line.”

Network Instruments’ 10 GbE options are priced starting at $47,500.

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